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WIRING THE HILL COUNTRY: New internet providers take on rural areas

Published by The Statesman on June 21, 2019

By Nicole Cobler

With internet service lagging in rural areas, new providers are stepping into the arena.

David McCullough’s phone rang. It was Home Town Donuts in Johnson City, and their internet service was down.

He raced through his house to find his laptop, which would allow him to diagnose the issue, but not before cracking four metatarsal bones in his foot.Img 4051 300x236

He couldn’t stop for a broken foot, though, because he and his wife, Ginger, have an internet company to maintain. On the way to the emergency room, they dropped off a wireless hotspot at the doughnut shop.

A few hours later and wearing a protective boot, David climbed the town’s 220-foot-tall water tower to fix a cable that was affecting roughly three dozen customers.

Now, three months later, David’s foot is healed, and they’ve hired two additional employees to help in the field. But the pair still feel the urgency of running Hill Country Wireless, which has become the largest high-speed internet provider in Johnson City, a town of roughly 2,000 people.

More than 80 years ago, the Texas Hill Country struggled to catch up to the rest of the nation when it came to electricity. Now, that same area is slow to access high-speed internet, and the McCulloughs are among a number of rural Texans and advocates trying to fill the gap.

And the couple swears it’s just like operating their former Panhandle cattle ranch.

“It never failed on a Saturday morning — when we thought we were going to get a lot done at the cattle ranch — the tractor had a flat tire or the tractor wouldn’t start,” Ginger recalled over iced tea at Johnson City’s Pecan Street Brewing restaurant. “You don’t call people to come out and fix that kind of stuff. You just do it yourself.”

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