On January 1, 2011, Hancock Telecom and Central Indiana Power merged cooperatives into what is now known as NineStar™ Connect. On October 30, 2010, members of both cooperatives overwhelming voted in favor of the merger. NineStar Connect has emerged as a company that will become a leader in smart grid deployment with the ability to provide advanced communications services to unserved and underserved areas.
It’s almost unheard of to combine an electric company and a communications company. Only one American cooperative that’s located in a remote part of Alaska, The Nushagek Cooperative, involves both electricity and communications services. New Indiana legislation paved the way for what became the second such move in the nation.
A co-op operates as a non-profit business that works to provide the best possible service to its “members” or customers. There are nationwide networks of utility cooperatives that trace their roots back decades to Roosevelt’s New Deal.
The communications division serves as a telecommunications cooperative that offers services like broadband Internet, telephone, video and security solutions to residential and business customers. The electric services division provides electric power to customers in Hancock and parts of Hamilton, Madison and Rush counties. The NineStar Connect cooperative has a long history of doing business in Hancock County and is overseen by an elected board of directors. NineStar Connect has approximately 14,000 customers with about 5,000 customers having services from both the communications and electric divisions
Some benefits of the newly merged cooperative include:
- By using the communication’s division fiber-optics, the electric division could deploy smart meters that involve two-way communication between the meter and a central location. This would allow the power division to get meter data without stopping at your house or driving down your street.
- Smart meters can also enable the electric division to eventually move to time-of-use billing where you would save money by using power at off-peak times.
- The communication division sometimes needs to put fiber-optics on power poles for various reasons, but doesn’t have employees who are used to climbing them. The electric division does have experienced employees who could perform this task.
- Greater efficiencies for all members by consolidating functions such as customer support which is performed locally in Hancock County.
Both former companies’ headquarters will remain full and operational. The building in Maxwell, IN, is now referred to as the “North Campus”, and the building in Greenfield, IN, is now referred to as the “South Campus”.
History of the Communications Division
Five small companies in Hancock County joined together in November 1950 to form the Hancock Rural Telephone Corporation – the McCordsville Telephone Company, the Maxwell Telephone Company, the Mohawk Telephone Company, the New Eden Telephone Company and the Willow Branch Telephone Company.
The McCordsville Company was founded in 1895 by Loren Helms, a telephone factory worker, when he strung a wire across a back fence from his mother’s house to the home of his sister, Mrs. Charles Peal, and installed the first telephone in the community. Soon three neighbors joined the line Hiram Dunham, James Thomas, and Robert Wilson – and the company was in business.
The other four companies were established between 1900 and 1903. Each started as a community venture with 12 to 25 lines. Originally called the Eden Telephone Company, the exchange in that community was renamed the New Eden Telephone Company about 1940.
In 1952, a loan from the Rural Electrification Administration was approved, and by the spring of 1953, the exchanges of the corporation were consolidated into four dial offices – Maxwell, McCordsville, Mohawk, and Willow Branch – serving about 550 patrons.
Dial telephone service to all Hancock’s customers was established in 1966. In 1967, a new central office building was built in McCordsville and new dial equipment was cut into service with all one-party service, direct distance dialing, automatic number identification and extended area service into the Indianapolis metro area.
In October 1965, the company expanded its operations beyond the boundaries of Hancock County and fringes of other surrounding counties by purchasing the Markleville Telephone Company located in neighboring Madison County and installing dial service with direct distance dialing, automatic number identification, and extended area service with the surrounding exchanges.
On February 1, 1967, Hancock Rural purchased the Cadiz Rural Telephone Cooperative, Inc. located in Henry County. In 1970, Maxwell, Mohawk and Willow Branch were consolidated into a new office at Maxwell with all one-party service, direct distance dialing, automatic number identification, and extended area service into the Indianapolis metro area. The Maxwell offices serve as headquarters for all Hancock’s customer, plant and engineering operations.
On July 1, 1979, Hancock purchased the Sulphur Springs Telephone Company and has since combined Markleville, Cadiz and Sulphur Springs into a new switching system which is all one-party, completely digital with a host switch at Markleville and remotes at Cadiz and Sulphur Springs.
On June 1, 1999, Hancock Rural Telephone Corp began doing business as Hancock Telecom to better reflect the full line of telecommunication services it offered.
As of September 30, 2006, Hancock Telecom served over 8,200 access lines in Hancock, Henry, Madison, Marion and Hamilton Counties with exchanges at Maxwell, Markleville, and McCordsville. Additionally, Hancock Communications, Inc. (described below) served over 1,800 access lines in the communities it serves.
In 1983 Hancock Rural Telephone Corporation formed a partnership with Hancock County Rural Electric Membership Corporation to establish Central Indiana Communications, Inc., a company whose purpose it was to provide cable television service to unserved areas of Hancock County. The cable TV business was eventually sold to what is now Insight Communications and Hancock Rural Telephone Corporation acquired Hancock County REMC’s 50% interest in Central Indiana Communications, Inc. Now a wholly owned subsidiary, Central Indiana Communications, Inc. purchased a DBS area franchise in 1992 and began offering satellite television services to a large portion of east central Indiana. The DBS franchise was eventually sold to Pegasus in 1999.
Central Indiana Communications, Inc. (“CICI”) is the holding company for all of NineStar’s unregulated lines of communications business which includes Internet services (including DSL and Ethernet), digital IP video, cellular partnerships, long distance, phone and security systems, real estate, leasing and voicemail. CICI also owns NineStar Communications, a company established to offer competitive local communications services, including telephone, long distance and broadband. NineStar Communications was the first competitive local exchange carrier licensed by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in 1995 and currently offers local service in Greenfield, New Castle, Rushville, Pendleton, Shirley, Wilkinson, Fortville, Knightstown, Morristown and the Mt. Comfort area. It has extensive fiber optic facilities and offers direct fiber connections to many of its customers in these towns. CICI also has invested in joint ventures with other independent telco’s in Indiana to increase the number of services available to NineStar’s customers as well as increase efficiencies through economies of scale. These ventures include:
Indiana Fiber Network: Hancock Telecom helped establish a state-wide fiber optic network that is owned by independent telephone companies. Currently, 20 companies own the most comprehensive DWDM network throughout the state, which consists of over 1,000 miles of fiber optic cable that accesses all of Indiana’s major population areas. CICI currently owns a 10% interest in IFN.
Indiana Video Network: Realizing the need to add video to its product portfolio, Hancock Telecom partnered with 8 other telephone companies to build a video head end (located at NineStar’s North Campus) in 2004. NineStar TV (Hancock’s IP video service) obtains its signal from the IVN head-end and IVN uses IFN to transport the video signal to other companies throughout the state. Currently, CICI’s ownership interest in IVN is 12.5%.
Also, Central Indiana Power, Inc. (“CIP”) is the holding company for all of NineStar’s unregulated lines of electric business which includes Central Indiana Street Lighting, LLC which provides ornamental and street lighting for subdivisions and other unincorporated communities. CIP also offers a variety of security lighting options for NineStar customers.
History of the Electric Services Division
It was nearly 75 years ago that a group of farmers got together to form Hancock County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC). President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal had just made it possible to borrow money from the federal government to build electric lines in the rural countryside.
Private investor-owned power companies were not interested in serving less-dense, less-profitable rural agricultural areas. So the farmers joined together in small areas across the nation to provide themselves with electricity – a service that would dramatically change and improve farm life and production.
On August 14, 1935, 39 persons from various townships of Hancock County, on invitation of the Hancock County Farm Bureau, met to study the probability of electrifying farm premises. At the meeting it was decided to make application for membership in the Statewide Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC); and that the membership fee would be $5.00. By March 16, 1936, 968 applications had been signed for the new REMC. With a successful membership drive, loans totaling $325,000 were approved on February 1, 1937, for line construction; and bids for the construction were let on April 29, 1937. It was November 4, 1937, that the first pole to carry lights to the country in Hancock County was set, just south of the Charles Brandle farm in Vernon Township. By November 30, 1937, approximately 60 houses had been wired; and by August, 1938, 325 miles of Hancock County REMC lines were energized serving approximately 815 houses.
In 1992, it was decided that Hancock County REMC would do business as Central Indiana Power. Today, the power division of NineStar Connect has over 12,000 active services and approximately 950 miles of energized line.