BY RON WILSON
Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development
Customer service. That was the role which began one young woman’s career in telecommunications. Now she is leading that same company which is serving customers’ technology needs in new and innovative ways.
Catherine Moyer is chief executive officer of Pioneer Communications, a rural telecommunications company headquartered in Ulysses. She grew up in Ulysses and went to college in Vermont. Her first job was at Pioneer Communications, where she worked as a frontline customer service representative.
Pioneer is one of many local telephone companies formed across rural America in the 1940s and ’50s. Some say the rural telephone business began with a farmer stringing a copper wire from one fencepost to the next. Cooperatives and local companies were formed to offer and expand service. Pioneer Communications was founded in 1950 as the Pioneer Telephone Company.
Catherine went to law school at Washburn University and worked at a firm in Topeka. In 2002, the Pioneer Communications Board of Directors offered her the position of director of legal and regulatory affairs. “I promised them five years, but here I am,” Catherine said. She and her husband live in Ulysses. In 2012, she was promoted to CEO. “Great people work here at Pioneer,” she said.
“We’ve changed dramatically through the years,” Catherine said. “In the old days, the phone company waited for the customers to come to us. Now we have to go earn their business.”
In response, Pioneer Communications has expanded and modernized its network while serving its customers’ growing and varied needs. The company’s website says it’s committed to being the best internet-, TV- and phone provider in southwest Kansas.
Today, in addition to traditional landline telephone service, Pioneer Communications offers high-speed internet access and streaming television. “Our bread and butter used to be voice (transmission),” Catherine said. “Now it’s broadband. We are deploying a state-of-the-art network, focusing on broadband and data services.”
In 2019, the company made the transition from traditional cable television delivery to streaming services.
In addition to Ulysses, Pioneer Communications has office locations in Hugoton, Johnson, Lakin, Satanta, and Syracuse. The company serves a 5,000-square-mile region of southwest Kansas. In addition to the larger towns, that territory includes such rural communities as Coolidge, population 95; Horace, population 70; and Richfield, population 43 people. Now, that’s rural.
Catherine has been a strong voice for rural Internet access. She is vice chair of the national Precision Agriculture Task Force established by USDA and the Federal Communications Commission. She served on the Kansas Broadband Task Force in 2019. “We proposed legislation which didn’t get enacted due to the pandemic, but one of our key ideas is being implemented through the state highway plan,” Catherine said. “If KDOT is going to rebuild a highway, now (telecom) providers can have an opportunity to put in conduit during construction,” she said. This makes it much more practical to string fiber optic cable, for example.
Catherine also serves on the Board of Directors of CoBank, part of the Farm Credit System. “The Farm Credit System supports every aspect of the rural economy,” Catherine said.
Broadband is a vital element of that economy. “Internet access evens the playing field for rural opportunities,” Catherine said. “It makes it possible for families and businesses in rural Kansas to market products or work from home,” she said.
This has caused Pioneer to make an investment in providing high-speed access to families and businesses, even though it is costly. “If a business is being recruited to our region, we have pledged that broadband access will not be a problem,” she said.
“Rural Kansas deserves that,” Catherine said. “I’m going to the mat every day for the rural people of our region and the people of Pioneer.”
For more information about Pioneer Communications, go to www.pioncomm.net.
Customer service. That was Catherine’s first job at Pioneer Communications. Now she is CEO, and guess what? Customer service is still her first job. We salute Catherine and the people of Pioneer Communications for their commitment to rural Internet access. They are still working to serve the customer.