Panora Telco Celebrates 100 Years

Andrew Randol, Panora Telco General Manager/CEO

By Susan Thompson 

In 1919, Panora Mutual Telephone was authorized to do business by the State of Iowa. Andrew Randol has been general manager and CEO of the Panora Communications Cooperative and its family of companies since 1999. A University of Iowa graduate and licensed CPA, Randol worked as Panora Telco’s accountant for three years before advancing to the top job. He and his wife Amy have three children. In this month’s Q&A, Randol takes a look back, and a look ahead. 

Q. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Panora Telco. Share some key points from that 100-year history. 

A. The first telephone lines in the area were installed in the 1890s, but it was 1919 before Panora Mutual Telephone was formalized. The company was converted to a cooperative in 1963, the same year the transition from operators to dial calling was made. 

In 1969, the first phone lines were extended to Lake Panorama, and Dale Grotjohn was hired as manager, where he served for 30 years. A year later, lines were extended to both the east and west sides of the lake. 

From 1971 to 1973, lines in rural areas were upgraded to single party lines. Advanced technology led to steady upgrades, with dial-up internet in 1994 and DSL internet in 1998. Fiber optic lines were installed in Guthrie Center in 2000, and in Panora and the Lake Panorama community in 2010. The Yale exchange was purchased in 2015 from Prairie Telephone, and fiber optic cable installed there two years late.  

Panora Communications Cooperative, commonly called Panora Telco, and its family of companies—Panora Coop Cablevision, Panora Telecommunications, Inc, Guthrie Telecommunications, Inc—has customers at Lake Panorama, Panora, Yale, Linden, Bagley, Jamaica and the rural areas surrounding. This means we reach most of Guthrie county, and parts of Audubon, Greene and Dallas counties.

Q. What plans are in place to celebrate this 100-year achievement?

A. We started our celebration inMarch at our annual meeting, which included a history recap of Panora Telco. On June 29, Curtis Thornberry, our technology and business development specialist, will present a historical talk at the Guthrie County Historical Village and Museum in Panora. During Panorama Days, we’ll be hosting a free barbecue and open house 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, August 2. We’ll sponsor a live band the next evening, with more details to come.  

Q. How is the cooperative governed?

AThere is a seven-member board of directors, with elections held each year in conjunction with our annual meeting. Directors serve three-year terms, with no term limits. Current directors are Ron Reynolds, LeRoy Oxley, Kelvin Hafner, Lynnea Andersen, Dale Grotjohn, Chris Arganbright, and Dave Ryan. 

Longevity of staff is a huge asset in our industry. We have accumulated 233 years of Telco experience with our 13 employees. The company has had two managers in the last 50 years, but any company is no better than its staff and I think Telco has some of the best. Employees include Jaime Waddle, Pam Klinkefus, Cheryl Castile, Geri Thompson, Bill Dorsett, Curtis Thornberry, Paul Brewster, Kevin Baldwin, Andrew Carson, Mike Moore, Zach Davis, and David Garland.

Q.  What impact has Lake Panorama had on Panora Telco? 

A. With Lake Panorama as part of our service area, it allows us to leverage numbers when we look at projects and decision-making. Lake Panorama essentially doubles our base size and allows much more scale and scope when we look at opportunities. Lake Panorama’s management team is excellent to work with when it comes to planning for the future needs of the Association and how Telco can be a player in that future. We value that relationship dearly.  

Having Lake Panorama in our area also gives us opportunities to explore offering services that we would not necessarily be able to do otherwise, based upon their needs. Coupling the lake development’s needs with the rest of our service territory gives us an advantage over other communications companies our size.

Q. Detail the range of services offered by Panora Telco and its family of companies. 

A. Our family of companies offers a full suite of communication products and services that are aimed at making our members lives efficient and comfortable. We were created to address a specific need 100 years ago—provide plain old telephone service—and that continued to be our core product up until the late 1980s. 

Video services were introduced in the 1980s and then a thing called the “internet” began to change the world. Today we offer voice, television, internet, the Solutions retail store, managed services for business and residential usage, plus home convenience items such as cameras, door locks, water sensors and more.

Overall, we offer fiber-facilities-based services in Lake Panorama, Panora, Yale, and Guthrie Center; coaxial-based services in Linden, Bagley, and Jamaica; and fixed wireless broadband in rural parts of Guthrie, Dallas, Audubon and Greene counties. 

Q. What are some of the greatest challenges the cooperative faces today? 

A. One of our bigger challenges continues to be finding the right partners and opportunities for growth. We are constantly looking for opportunities to expand the territory we serve as well as the products and offerings we have. We do our best to keep our “ear to the tracks,” evaluate the new evolutionary products, and see what fits for our area. I feel we do a good job today at looking to the future, but we will need to “listen” closely to what the tracks are telling us.

Another challenge we face is the labor force. Hiring quality technicians has become somewhat challenging over the years, as our last hire took many, many months to solidify.

Finally, providing a quality video product at an affordable cost is a constant battle. The charges from the television stations to us continue to rise at exorbitant rates. With many stations being owned by a single company, in order to get one station, they “force” you to carry many others that you have little or no interest in, but yet have to pay for. Station fees now are 70 percent of gross revenues, which leaves very little to do network upgrades. There seems to be no relief in sight.

Q. How do you view the role of Panora Telco in the communities you serve? 

A. There are several traits I think companies need to have in order to become 100 years old. These include a strong mission and culture; mastering the delicate balance between tradition and change; strong relationships; employees who feel like family; and being active in our community.        

We see Panora Telco as much more than a communications provider. We feel we are a key player in the community from an economic development front. We own a business park, have land in a housing development, several buildable lots in Panora, and feel we partner well with the Lake Panorama Association on multiple fronts. We have two Revolving Loan funds, offer scholarships, provide volunteers for Chamber, PRIDE, the local fire departments, Lions Clubs, and more. We also team up with Aureon for various grant and scholarship opportunities.

Q. What does the future hold for Panora Telco and its customers? 

A. We continue to look toward the future and try to predict the needs of our member owners. Broadband is king, and we have the network to support it for years to come. Managed services continue to grow in demand, as people just want things to work, and we are able to assist in that. 

Telco will try and continue to “scratch where it itches” and fill needs if we have the skill set to do so. If we don’t, we will evaluate if we need to go out and get it. For the past 100 years we have tried to address our customers’ needs. We will continue to do the same thing the next 100 years.