The Oneida Telephone Exchange is a small Independent Telephone Company serving the City of Oneida, Illinois and its rural areas. It is located in the West Central portion of the state in Ontario Township in Knox County. Its office (photo) is located at 129 W Highway in Oneida and covers an area of approximately 38.5 square miles and serves around 622 customers.
In 2000, we became a CLEC company under the name of Oneida Network Services, Inc., which provides local telephone service to Rio, Illinois and its rural area. In Rio we service customers in both Knox and Mercer counties. Rio covers approximately 25 square miles and serves around 220 customers.
The formation of Oneida Telephone Exchange dates back to the early nineteen hundreds when 7 small companies consisting of Oneida-City Telephone Company, Ontario-Central Telephone Company, Oneida-Ontario Telephone Company, Oneida-Wataga Telephone Company, Telephone Line 79 and the South Line Telephone all joined forces to become the Oneida Telephone Association.
Each of the rural companies consisted of farm families who were responsible for their own lines. Families in each company were assessed an Annual fee and a small monthly rental fee to cover expenses to help maintain those lines. Lines from all 7 companies lead back to the Oneida switchboard.
All companies elected their own set of officers and maintained their own set of books and financial records.
According to earlier records found, Mr. Mort Howe was hired as the lineman to run the switchboard in 1922, with his wife caring for the billing. He also would help with the outside work as needed. He remained in that position until June 15, 1944.
Mr. Russell Croft of Walcom, Michigan was hired to replace him for a period of 1 year, followed by Mr. Irvin Newberg. He remained as manager until June 1, 1955, when Mr. Merle Owrey was hired.
It was decided due to financial and economical conditions that Oneida Telephone Association would merge and pool all assets. Effective September 1, 1956, Oneida Telephone Association, became the Oneida Telephone Exchange, a non-profit Corporation. Beginning in early 1957 there was much discussion of updating telephone equipment from the old outdated switchboard to a dial system. In order to raise the funds needed, Debenture bonds were sold to local subscribers. They raised the $43,000.00 needed to build their new central office and all the equipment for it. The bonds were to be paid back in 15 years at 5 1/2% interest.
It was decided to build their new building just north of the home owned by the Telephone Company, which housed the old switchboard. Rowe and Son of Oneida, Illinois was given the contract to build the new central office for $2,780.45 and that was completed in September of 1957, with the new dial equipment completely installed in January of 1958. Ironically, the first call made from the new office was to Oneida, New York, by Mayor Loren Johnson.
Oneida Telephone remained much the same until the late sixties when the burying of telephone lines in the country began and party lines began to diminish. In 1978 that project was completed and trouble reports were down by more than half.
In 1978, touch-tone was introduced to our subscribers. With the necessity of touch-tone, at least 95% of our customers have touch-tone phones today.
As Oneida Telephone continued to grow there was talk of burying the telephone lines in town. As word of that got around the telephone company was approached by the city of possibly putting in our own cable TV system and burying that cable at the same time. In 1982 a franchise agreement with the City was signed and we began a major project of organizing a new company called Oneida Cablevision, Inc.
In July of 1984 the burying of telephone and TV cables together was begun. A new Cable TV headend building was also completed that year, along with the assembling our new TV tower. In the spring of 1985 the burying of cable resumed and by mid summer that was completed and our first subscribers were beginning to be turned on. We started with 13 channels and that has now grown to 45 channels in 2001. We passed 275 houses and we now have 266 subscribers. Due to the current technology, we are also able to sell TV signal to NOVA Cablevision from Galesburg. Which they provide TV service to Rio, IL.
In 1985 we purchased the office of the former Alexander Lumber Company, completely remodeling it and we then moved into our new office October 1, 1985. We are still located at that same address today.
On January 1, 1986, David Olson was hired as the new Manager of the Company and under his direction and guidance telephone and cable TV records and maps of our system were set up and made available for the first time, Computers were installed in our office in 1988 and a new billing system was put in place. The computers and billing system were updated in March of 1998.
In late 1987 a new DMS-10 switch was installed in the new central office which had been enlarged for the fourth time since it was first built and in January of 1990 we gave our subscribers the most modern telephone service available with custom calling features such as call waiting, call forwarding, 3 way calling, 8 number speed dialing and 30 number speed dialing.
In 1990 Oneida Telephone Company along with several other Independent telephone companies formed a partnership and an interest in the cellular telephone service. Thus Oneida Cellular, Inc., was formed. We then became an agent for Sprint Cellular. Through the years that service has changed names several times, but is now known as Verizon. In March of 1999 that partnership was sold. And in January of 2001 we were no longer offering cellular service to our customers.
In 1992 we became an equal access office with our customers having to choose whom they wished to have as their long distance carrier.
In 1994 Direct TV was made available to our rural subscribers made possible with the purchase of an 18-inch dish installed on their home or perhaps on a pole, along with a receiver in the home, giving them a laser quality picture.
Voice Mail was added as a calling feature in our central office in 1994, which is an answering machine built in the switch that stores those messages that enables our customers to call a number along with a pass code and retrieve those messages.
In 1995 – 911 emergency calling became available to our customers.
In 1996 Oneida Telephone provided a local dial up number so our customers could step into the world called INTERNET.
In June of 1996 our newly formed company Oneida Network Services, Inc. will make us our own long distance carrier for the short and long distance calling.
In March of 2000, under the name of Oneida Network Services, Inc., we became a CLEC company and began to offer local service to the small town of Rio. Rio is located about 10 miles from Oneida and within our ROWVA School District. We currently provide dial tone to about 95% of those customers.
In January of 2001 we were able to offer our customers Caller ID Name & Number.
A seven member Board of Directors has governed the company since 1956. Its directors today are Gary Peterson, President, Mike Dixon, Vice President, Earl Copeland, Secretary, Sam McKie, Treasurer, Dean Nelson, Logan Stiers, and Neil Strandberg. It has been under their guidance that we have been so successful. In the last several years it has enabled us to pay patronage credits to our subscribers.
David Olson has continued to serve as Manager since 1986. David has 4 full time employees who work under him. Lori McCarthy was hired in 1994. Mark Butkovich was hired in 1996, Elaine McGraw joined us in 1998, and Don Hickey was hired in 2005. As employees it has been our pleasure to serve the communities of Oneida and Rio.