By Robert Lucke
Consider this. Havre is an island of telephones surrounded by a Goliath whose telephone services stretch in Montana from the Canadian border into Wyoming. Not to mention a huge electric service area which includes all of Hill County, and pieces of Chouteau, Liberty, Blaine and Fergus counties.
The huge Havre based company employs over 115 people, 75 right here in Havre. General manager and overseer of all this is John Magyar. Although only the third manager of Hill County Electric and Triangle Telephone, he has heard the stories like many others of early beginnings of the co-op in 1947, when Harold Ebaugh, the first general manager hung wire on poles himself and Lester Hauge carried around office papers in a cigar box.
Magyar takes up the story.
"We have 3300 miles of electric line and 3300 electric meters. That is about one a mile," said Magyar. "On the telephone side we have Triangle Telephone and Central Montana Communications which we bought from US West and all of them are run from this office. Central Montana Communications is a for profit corporation owned by Triangle."
Not only that, but there is Triangle Communications Systems which is an advanced services company owned by the co-op, too. That business provides Internet service to both Triangle Telephone and Central Montana Communications.
If that isn't enough, Triangle shared ownership in Visionnet which among other things provides interactive video studios to 67 Montana schools along with MSU-Northern.
"That makes it possible for one school to run a class and all the other schools can benefit," added Magyar. "MSU-Northern runs quite a few classes over Visionnet."
Magyar credits former general manager Burl Miner for having foresight enough to along with Nemont co-op, hired Jack Sterling to teach area schools how to put together federal grants for interactive video.
"Jack went out and visited schools and did his presentations until today our service area has the record for more grants than any other service area in the country," Magyar said with a laugh. "In Montana, we have one-third of all the federal funding for this project."
Electric service is where Hill County Electric got its start but telephone is where the action is today.
"Between Triangle and North Montana Communications we have 18,000 access lines. That is 1.6 access lines per mile of line," said Magyar. "We lack density. Montana Power on the power side has 12 to 15 meters per mile against our one. And I think US West is even more dense. We feel quite proud of ourselves considering our lack of density. We think our rates are just exceptional."
For the next 10 years Magyar hopes that Triangle will spend 38 million to upgrade along with 18 million in upgrade dollars for Central Montana Communications.
"I don't know if all that will happen but that is what we think," added Magyar.
"We know we have to build our customer base," related Magyar. "We would love to eventually acquire Havre and we would just love to acquire Lewistown. They are both just ideal sources and with both our density would improve and we could offer enhanced customer services."
Electric services spells a far different world for the co-op and Magyar.
"Telephone service offerings just are ballooning. I don't see that happening on the electric side," said Magyar. "I see the electric user instead of buying power from a central point, larger customers might install a generator right on his property to produce his own needs right there. I think that will happen. The Montana Powers and Montana Dakota Utilities and Hill County Electric's of the world will be trying something different. Look at Montana Power going into tele communications."
West of Havre, both Montana Power and Hill County Electric have a set of poles running along the highway. Magyar sees the time when those two entities will share one set of poles.
Don't forget the co-ops In Touch service as well which provides long distance service for customers. All that is leading to a major expansion of the 1976 plant located just west of Havre.
"We are planning a 10,000 square foot addition and larger if more growth warrants it," said Magyar.
Best part of the job for Magyar?
"One thing I love about this place is that it is so expansive in its thinking," said Magyar.
From a cigar box full of records and the general manager stringing line, to 115 employees and telephones over maybe a full third of the state, a large electric service area and everything that goes along with the basics, expansive is the word for the Havre co-op.