Independent ILECs go beyond the voice call

For what smaller independent telcos may lack in size, they make up for that shortcoming with an ambitious spirit that's set on taking chances on new technologies and services. Like many of their larger ILEC counterparts, smaller independent telcos spent much of their lives doing nothing more than being the local telephone company. But with the dawn of cable TV and more recently the dawn of the Internet in the mid-1990s, these independent companies began to branch out into not only providing enhanced residential broadband and video, but also business and, in some cases, wholesale services as part of a larger cooperative.

Of course, if you take a look at any one independent ILEC outside of the top three (Windstream, CenturyTel and Frontier) you'll see a very diverse group. These smaller carriers are not only diverse in terms of their size and regional footprint, but also in terms of their service mix that includes residential and business broadband, video and data service initiatives on their own terms. Take AR-based Ritter Communications. The company not only operates a traditional rural ILEC operation, a CLEC subsidiary for business customers, and even a cable company. Company president Paul Waits likens Ritter's service and footprint diversity to the nutritional food pyramid.

"The other rural ILEC that we acquired in 1991 is a traditional ILEC with twisted pair and DSL and what you would expect to find if you pulled up the NECA list," explained Paul Waits. "Then, Northeast Arkansas is where we have our cable TV network and Fiber to the Premises network for business. We really do have all of the major food groups represented."