South Slope Cooperative Communications provides communication solutions to homes and businesses delivered on a vast fiber-optic network for unmatched reliability. Services include broadband internet, television, and telephone services; Ethernet services; Managed Wi-Fi; dark fiber; HPBX; and custom construction builds. As a cooperative, South Slope is dedicated to helping communities thrive and is committed to providing the highest level of customer service. South Slope serves more than 16,000 customers over 555 square miles in eastern Iowa.
Business View Magazine recently asked South Slope Cooperative Communications how they are adapting their business during the Covid-19 pandemic. The following highlights the company’s innovative and evolving responses to this critical situation.
Challenge in the Industry
BVM: Being an essential service, how has your business changed since the start of the Covid-19 crisis? Have you had to pivot any internal or external processes? How do you continue to provide value to clients?
South Slope: As a local cooperative with a robust fiber network, we were positioned to act quickly in implementing COVID-19 prevention measures while also managing the increased traffic on our network. We understand that the need for a reliable internet, phone, and television connection is greater now than ever before as so many of our customers have moved to working, learning, and social distancing from home.
For in-person support, we pivoted to conducting all customer visits through our drive-up window to ensure safety for our customers and our employees. For services at homes and businesses, we are continuing to install internet and phone service but have halted TV service installations for the time being due to the amount of time needed for those appointments. We are closely following CDC guidelines for cleanliness, and have implemented additional sanitation procedures to prevent the spread of the virus, including properly cleaning hands, equipment, and tools before and after each appointment.
When scheduling an appointment, we now ask each customer if someone in their home or business is ill or experiencing flu-like symptoms; is under quarantine; or has recently traveled outside the state of Iowa. In those cases, we schedule the appointment 14 days out. We are encouraging our customers to connect with us from the safety of their homes, including through Live Chat and our online web portal for managing their account, bill payment and opening trouble tickets. We also recently launched support services to analyze and resolve computer and network problems remotely.
BVM: How have you maintained the culture among your employees, vendors, and clients to ensure you are doing everything you can for your ‘people’?
South Slope: To ensure the safety of our employees, who in turn take care of our customers, we have instituted telecommuting where possible, separated our workforce into multiple locations throughout our serving territories, and created more space between employees working in our main office. We regularly communicate with our residential and business customers through emails, phone calls, social media and on our website at southslope.com/coronavirus.
BVM: What key moves have you made during the crisis that has given you leverage in your industry?
South Slope: As so many of our customers have moved to working and learning from home, we have redistributed internet traffic onto multiple fiber-optic rings to minimize the risk of network congestion. We have also increased our backhaul capacity almost three times as the need for connectivity and faster transmission of data increases daily.
When COVID-19 began spreading, South Slope was already in a multi-year process of moving our network traffic to a Cisco 200 Gigabit transport ring for delivering the fastest internet speeds available combined with maximum efficiency. This technology positioned us to be ready for the increased traffic that has come from the changes people have had to make during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a local cooperative with 82 employees, we are able to quickly adapt and implement change. We connect with our members who are also our friends and neighbors. It’s because of those connections that we are able to see what our community needs and quickly implement solutions.
For more information, visit southslope.com or southslope.com/business.
*Photo at top credit: Photography by Rebecca
Pictured L to R: Brian Hamacher – Director of Operations, Phil Jones – IT Group Manager, and Chuck Deisbeck – CEO
South Slope Cooperative Communications: Historical Timeline
South Slope Cooperative Telephone Company was formed on April 1, 1958 in Norway, Iowa to provide voice communications for its members in five communities. Each community had a telephone company that owned the switchboard and the town lines. All of the rural lines were farmer-owned and they paid the town telephone company switching fees.
1958 Aerial cable, open wire, “crank” phones, with 8-party line telephone services in the rural area, and 1, 2 or 4-party line services in town.
1960 South Slope served approximately 1500 Cooperative members.
1966 The town of North Liberty joined the Cooperative bringing total membership to 2500.
1970 100% buried, single party telephone service.
1999 South Slope began doing business as South Slope Cooperative Communications Company, and expanded to surrounding areas of Oxford, Solon, and Tiffin. These exchanges were overbuilt with copper & fiber optic cable, switching equipment, and customer drops. Services offered:
- DSL High Speed internet with speeds up to 5mb.
- Direct Connect Internet: Fractional T-1, full T-1, and DS3, OC3, or Ethernet Internet connections up to 45 Mb.
- South Slope Wireless phones in partnership with Iowa Wireless to provide PCS Digital Wireless Phone Service.
2001 The Amana Colonies Telephone Company was purchased by South Slope and joined the Cooperative bringing in another 1500 lines.
2003 – South Slope moved its headquarters from Norway to North Liberty.
2005 – South Slope launched Digital Video (Cable) TV to the majority of its service area and began installing Fiber to the Home (FTTH) to any new subdivision built within South Slopes exchange areas.
2008 – South Slope purchased the Swisher Telephone Company. The Swisher community was overbuilt with Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH), making it possible to receive Landline Phone, High Speed Internet, and Digital Video services.
2009 – A two-story bunker-type structure was built in North Liberty to withstand an F5 tornado with 300+ miles an hour winds to house the majority of our electronic equipment.
2010 – South Slopes launches a multi-year fiber optic overbuild in their incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) areas to deliver the fastest internet speeds available.
2015 – The Rural Broadband Association recognized South Slope as one of 12 communities in rural areas of the United States that has earned Smart Rural Community designation. The Smart Rural Community initiative showcases efforts made by companies like South Slope that make rural communities vibrant places in which to live and do business. The award highlights the company’s fiber-optic deployment efforts for high speed internet, TV, and phone in the communities of North Liberty, Newhall, Norway, Swisher, Walford, Fairfax, Ely, and Amana.
2018 – South Slope embarked on a multi-year upgrade that will increase their data network to a 200 Gigabit transport ring. This innovation is the first of its kind in Iowa and will allow South Slope to offer the most advanced communication solutions available combined with unmatched reliability.
2020 – Through continual expansion, South Slope has grown to cover the following communities: Amana, Ely, Fairfax, Newhall, North Liberty, Norway, Oxford, Solon, Shueyville, Swisher, Tiffin, Watkins, Walford, West and South Cedar Rapids, and parts of Coralville.