New Lisbon Telephone Company
Anchored in the past. Focused on the future.
Business View Magazine interviews John Greene, Jr., CEO of New Lisbon Telephone Company, for our focus on Technology and Telecommunications
In these times of increased dependence on mobile and digital communication, the services from a New Lisbon, Indiana provider of high-speed internet, telephone, and digital television are in peak demand by more than a dozen Indiana communities. Founded in 1901, New Lisbon Telephone Company (NLTC) has a well-earned reputation for customer service that has never waned. To keep pace with ever-evolving technology, in 2015, NLTC formed New Lisbon Broadband & Communications LLC (NLBC), as a non-regulated, competitive subsidiary, wholly owned by New Lisbon Telephone Company. NLTC is a private, stock-held company with about 77 shareholders scattered across the country. Most of the stock derives from the original founders handed down over the years and there are no majority shareholders.
John Greene Jr., CEO of the New Lisbon Telephone Company, recounts, “When I started in 2014, the company had not made a lot of changes to keep abreast of the technology that was progressing in other parts of the country. They’d completed very little fiber to the home (FTTH); their DSL (a copper based Broadband product) vendor had discontinued manufacturing a number of years earlier and wasn’t capable of ramping up speeds even to 25 Mbps. When you’re in a high-tech environment, technology rolls over every three to five to seven years and if you don’t stay up with it, you find yourself in a hole. That was the situation with New Lisbon Telephone Company – they had a long, solid history and had done a good job of providing telephone service, but they had not kept up with the internet age.”
Greene was charged with turning the company around and making sure it was keeping up with the times, which he did. For the last six years, the company has gone through a tremendous period of growth – organic growth as well as a number of acquisitions. The company went from 600 customers in 2014 to over 3000 customers in Indiana, today. According to Greene, “All of the regulated customers are on copper or fiber – we don’t use wireless in our regulated territory. We hope to be 100 percent fiber by next year to replace all that old copper plant. But we have overbuilt quite a bit of surrounding territory with both fiber and wireless because customers couldn’t get good service from the large incumbent provider.”
Today, NLTC serves residential, commercial, and industrial customers in about half of Henry County, a large portion of Wayne County, almost all of Randolph County, and parts of Union, Fayette, and Delaware Counties. One of their goals is to increase the number of fiber-served areas in all those Indiana counties in the coming years, depending on how the new FCC and state Broadband programs work out. NLTC is also in the final stages of acquiring another telephone company in a different state that will add almost 1,000 customers, reaching the impressive 4000 mark. This will be the company’s fourth acquisition in six years, some of which were multi-million dollar investments.
For its size, NLTC is a relatively large provider of backhaul services for cellular towers. They partner with the member-owned, state-wide network IFN to provide service to 15 cell towers, including a number of national cellular companies. They also do business with medical clinics, libraries, local governments, and some state government facilities, as well as a plethora of small businesses, banks, grocery stores, manufacturers, restaurants, and residential customers. Their biggest product is Broadband Internet. On the fiber side, the lowest bandwidth, they offer is a 25 meg symmetrical package, but that goes all the way to a gigabit for a number of residential and business customers.
“We also offer telephone service throughout that five-county area,” says Greene. “And we do a digital video product – set-top boxes (STBs), DVRs, the whole nine yards. And at the end of June, we launched our streaming digital video service. It’s limited initially to wireless customers but if a customer uses our wireless internet they will be able to get that full video package over their internet connection rather than requiring a fiber connection like in the past. That will be very popular. The problem in the rural areas is customers take our wireless service because they don’t have fiber or a really good Broadband provider. But for TV, if you want anything besides the regular off air channels you have to go to DISH or DIRECT, which gets extremely expensive. So we’re going to offer a better product for less cost through our company. No worries about who to call for repairs, and the streaming service will work on Smart TVs, Amazon Firestick, or other devices, just like Netflix.”
Telecommunications is now considered an essential service like water, sewer, gas, and electric. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the company has seen an increase in customers. In fact, they hooked up more customers in April than in any previous month. Existing customers want to upgrade their packages from 25 Mbps, to 50 or 100 or 500. People who are locked down are either working from home, or doing education from home, or watching movies and gaming – all of which take a robust internet connection.
But there are challenges. As Greene reports, “Depending on what type of equipment we’re using and who the manufacturer is, we have seen a shortage of some items. This was happening even before Covid-19 because a lot of the equipment manufacturers had shifted their operations to China. And with the Chinese embargo that was put in place, we were already starting to see a slowdown in receiving equipment because a key component was manufactured in China. The coronavirus made things even worse. However, fiber cable hasn’t been a problem and neither has any of our infrastructure from that standpoint. We’ve not missed a beat when it comes to fiber buildouts, and we’ll probably have a record year in 2020 as far as our construction spend.”
When Greene issues his quarterly report, he highlights the new customers that have signed up and gives them a warm welcome. As well as giving a shout out to valuable partners such as town and county governments. In several cases, the company provides Broadband services for a town, in exchange for being allowed to use their water tower or other town-owned towers to provide wireless internet service to rural parts of that county.
A key vendor since 2015, ElectriCom out of Paoli, Indiana is a major player in the Broadband infrastructure construction business in several states and has enabled NLBC to stay ahead of the curve on all its construction projects. Greene adds, “From a technology standpoint, I can’t say enough about AdTran and the excellent tech support we get from them. I’ve been using their equipment for over 20 years of my career – they have rock solid equipment and that relationship continues today. And we have really good partners in our supply chain with KGPCo and Power and Tel. Both have been instrumental in helping us grow. My philosophy is if we find a good quality product at a fair price, I tend to stick with that provider, and in my 40 plus years in the industry that’s been successful.
I also have to give a huge thank you to our employees. We’ve got a dynamite group of people that all row in the same direction. That’s important for a small business. And my Board of Directors have been amazingly supportive of my vision for the company’s future which is now a shared vision. As a CEO, if you’re at opposition with your board all the time, you’re not going to get much done. In our case, we’re share a common goal – to make NLTC more successful. We look at the strategic vision for the company and then they let me loose and I go out and carry forward with the employees to build toward that vision.”
Just because a company is old and storied, doesn’t mean it can’t reinvent itself. NLTC is a prime example. When Greene came on board six years ago, he told the employees, “This is going to be akin to a start-up company because we’re going to go back to ground zero and we’re going to start from scratch and rebuild.” He echoes that sentiment today, saying, “In essence that is what we are; a 119-year-old start-up company. We are passionate about rural America. We shop here, we work here, we live here and we believe everybody should have good Broadband. That’s what we’re all about. We’re truly connected with our customers. If their internet goes out, they don’t call a customer help line, they call me. We’ve built a good, strong reputation and we’re definitely recognizable in the community.”
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AT A GLANCE
New Lisbon Telephone Company
What: Provider of high-speed internet, telephone, and digital television
Where: New Lisbon, Indiana