After Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas Gulf Coast in August 2017, Btel is rapidly rebuilding and deploying fiber networks to bring high-speed broadband to Brazoria County customers.
“We already had planned to launch fiber-to-the-home. Hurricane Harvey escalated the need for fiber,’’ said Charlie Greenberg, president of Btel who serves on the Texas Telephone Association Board of Directors. “We have construction crews all over the place.”
Btel, or Brazoria Telephone Company, currently serves a largely rural service territory in southern Brazoria County in the Texas Coastal Bend. Btel provides high-speed Internet, TV, broadband, wireless and local phone service to about 7,000 customers in the greater Brazoria area.
Btel, with about 50 employees, is one of the oldest telephone companies in Texas and has been independent, family-owned and operated since 1946.
When Hurricane Harvey rolled on to the Texas coast as a Category 4 hurricane on August 25, 2017, the massive slow-moving hurricane dumped an estimated 10 trillion gallons of water on the southeast Texas area. The Brazos and San Bernard rivers on each side of Brazoria overflowed and much of Brazoria was under water for more than a week.
Btel had prepared for the storm by refining disaster plans and securing facilities and bringing in emergency supplies. During the storm, Btel focused on maintaining the network and preserving critical 911 service and communications.
With rising water and the loss of Brazoria’s sewer system, the town was evacuated. Btel’s offices could not reopen until September 11 and the company was able to assess the damage after the flood waters receded.
One-third of Btel’s network was underwater for more than a week. While Btel was able to maintain service to most of its customers throughout the storm, flood waters severely damaged Btel’s outside plant facilities. The combination of brackish water and copper cables created a massive amount of corrosion on the network.
From September 11 to November 3, Btel’s emergency crews worked around-the-clock, seven-days-a-week in challenging conditions to maintain service and repair or replace damaged infrastructure.
“Service, from a customer perspective, is back to normal. We still have a lot of people who are flooded out of their homes,’’ Greenberg said. “The network is functional, and we are moving forward with our fiber-to-the home build-out.’’
In the fiber project, Btel is deploying the first phase of a state-of-the-art fiber network to about 2,900 homes and businesses. Btel is expected to invest about $12 million in this phase of the fiber rollout that is expected to be completed in early 2019.
In the wake of the storm, Btel created the Btel Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, which has collected more than $65,000 from Btel employees and other telephone companies across Texas. Greenberg said hundreds of customers and some employees have received relief.
“So many of the companies around the state, so many TTA members donated to this,’’ Greenberg said. “The outpouring of support from fellow telcos across the country was remarkable.”
Throughout its history, Btel has seen growth and change.
When Brazoria Telephone was purchased in 1946, the company consisted of 100 hand-cranked magneto telephones with grounded lines. Today, the company has about 7,000 voice, Internet and video subscribers. Read more about Btel’s history here.
“Rural companies and cooperatives are continuing working to drive broadband to the areas of need,’’ Greenberg said.