The Ellijay Telephone Company, established in 1903 as the Ellijay Telephone Exchange and known today simply as ETC, is one of the oldest independently owned telephone companies in Georgia. By 2003, its 100-year anniversary, the company had become one of north Georgia’s major communications providers, offering basic telephone, long-distance, and Internet services. ETC also owns Cable Television (CTV), a basic and digital cable service, as well as the ETC-3 television station, which is one of the offerings on CTV’s lineup.
The original owners of the company were three local businessmen who obtained a twenty-year franchise from the city of Ellijay in Gilmer County. In 1913 the businessmen sold the tiny business to Doc Watkins, a prominent Ellijay doctor and entrepreneur. By 1932 Gilmer County’s population was around 7,000, but a regional telephone directory listed only 23 Ellijay telephone subscribers. The exchange equipment was powered by both magneto and common battery.
In 1946 Watkins sold the company to Samuel Green, Edith Green, and Dorothy Green. Just two months after buying the company, Samuel Green published the first telephone directory exclusive to Ellijay, with about 159 listings. By 1954 the Ellijay Telephone Company had grown to 675 subscribers and 107 miles of “pole line.” Advances in telephony fueled the growth, and in 1956 the company began the conversion from the old exchange system to the more sophisticated dial system.
In the mid-1950s Albert Harrison bought the company. Under Harrison’s direction, the Ellijay Telephone Company became a profitable business for the first time in its history. New lines were built to outlying areas, and in January 1958 new central office equipment enabled the company to add more than 200 phones. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Harrison plowed profits back into new technology and expansion. In 1971 all party lines in excess of four were eliminated, and the first private branch exchange was installed at the hospital. In 1975 all open wire (or bare wire, as it was commonly called) was finally replaced with insulated wire.
In 1968 Roger Futch joined the company; today he serves as a member of the executive management team. In 1974 John Harrison, Albert’s oldest son, joined the company, setting the stage for his eventual succession to the presidency. Doug Harrison, Albert’s younger son, also worked at the Ellijay Telephone Company and eventually became president of the company’s Cable Antenna Television (CATV), which would later become CTV. The cable company was forced by antitrust laws to separate for a time from the telephone company.
In 1982 the first digital switch was installed, the first remote concentrator office was constructed, and the commercial office was computerized. In 1984 the Ellijay Telephone Company became a tandem switch, and all 4,788 customers were regraded to one-party service. Push-button service was also made available around this time.
The most dramatic change in the company’s history occurred in 1984, when a federal court ordered the breakup of the national Bell System, bringing an end to a long-standing antitrust case that had begun in 1913. Earlier, in 1956, a final judgment ruling ordered the separation of the Bell System’s manufacturing from its operating and research functions. Then in 1982 the AT&T company and the Department of Justice signed a consent decree settling the Department of Justice’s antitrust case by divesting AT&T of its local telephone companies.
The competition that resulted from this “divestiture” affected the rates that customers were charged for telephone service and stimulated more advances in technology. The 1990s brought alternative regulation options for independently owned telephone companies. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 gave Georgia’s telephone companies the option to be alternatively regulated or to remain rate-of-return regulated.
Expansion of Services
During the late 1990s the Ellijay Telephone Company joined several other independent telephone companies to form Georgia PCS, which purchased spectrum, or cellular bandwidth, from Sprint. Georgia PCS offered personal communications services in areas north, east, and south of Atlanta. The Ellijay Telephone Company also joined with twenty other independent companies to form another consortium, the Georgia Independent TelCo Group (later renamed U.S. Carrier), to create a connected statewide fiber-optics network.
In 1997 the Ellijay Telephone Company purchased a Lucent high-tech digital switch, allowing the telephone company to use updated equipment from a multitude of vendors. To keep up with north Georgia’s growth, the company mapped its services area and purchased more than fifty parcels of land for remote buildings and cabinet equipment sites. By the end of the 1990s, the Ellijay Telephone Company was offering a host of new services to customers and processing nearly 40,000 service orders.
In 1999 the Ellijay Telephone Company acted on its new authority as a statewide reseller by building a new competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) operation in Jasper. The CLEC enabled the Ellijay Telephone Company to expand and provide dial tone out of its designated service area. In 1999 the company officially changed its name to ETC to better reflect its broader communications services beyond basic telephone service.
In 2000 a decades-old FCC mandate was reversed, allowing the cable company CATV, renamed CTV, to reunite with the ETC family of businesses. By 2002 CTV had grown to nearly 10,000 subscribers, more than 500 miles of cable, and a channel lineup that had increased from 12 to 169 stations. In June 2002 ETC published and distributed 70,000 directories within its distribution area, which ranged from as far south as Canton to as far north as McCaysville.
ETC continues to grow in both the number of services it provides and the geographical area it serves. ETC has expanded the CLEC operation into north Cherokee County and in 2003-4 acquired two cable systems, the former Comcast cable system in the Fannin County/Copper Basin area and the Kudzu Cable system in Polk County, Tennessee. ETC continues to pursue other communications and entertainment technologies.