The company now known as MTCO was incorporated in 1945 by Raymond and Elyme Rauh as the Metamora Telephone Company, according to MTCO Executive Vice President Kevin Rauh. "It provided customers in the local Metamora and Germantown Hills areas with local telephone services. In 1986, the Metamora Telephone Company purchased the Marseilles Telephone Company, another family-owned, independent telephone company in northern Illinois. At that time, a corporate holding company was formed called MTCO Corporation."

He said in 1995, MTCO purchased a small, locally owned ISP with about 200 Internet customers and formed MTCO Communications, the leg of MTCO that serves customers today with Internet and long-distance services.

Since MTCO began as a local, independent telephone company, Rauh said its initial vision was to provide rural central Illinois with quality telephone service for both local and long-distance calling. "Since then, MTCO's vision has expanded beyond just telephone connectivity to a company striving to be the leader in providing solutions to all communication needs, be it in voice products, paging products, wireless products, or Internet services."

The company offers a full range of communication services, he said. "We provide everything from local telephone service, voice mail products, residential and commercial telephone systems, state and nationwide paging services, and wireless cellular services. We also have a full range of Internet services, including accelerated dial-up access in more than 70 communities and high-speed data services such as DSL Broadband and T1 Internet access. MTCO also recently began offering a full range of other computer-related services, including home and business networking."

Rauh said in addition to expanded offerings, MTCO has grown other ways. "We've grown locally because of changes in the communities we serve-from a small farming community to a remote bedroom community of Peoria. The addition of the Marseilles company enabled us to broaden our footprint in north central Illinois. More importantly, however, MTCO has grown due to the forward-thinking vision its leadership has had-looking beyond just being a telephone company to being a communications provider for all of central Illinois."

The biggest changes in the communication industry have come about primarily because of the changes in technology and in government regulation, Rauh said. "Technology is changing very rapidly, which puts a strain on communication companies. Every time there's a change in technology, there's capital required to first do the research and development and then to implement the new technology. Yes, prices come down eventually on a lot of the new technology, but we can't wait until the prices are reasonable; we need to implement quickly before someone else does. With regulation, the advent of more competition has created a lot of frustration. Competition is good as long as everyone is playing on an equal field. Recently, some of the government's decisions seem to be advantageous for the big corporate players-not the consumer."

He said the biggest misperception the public has about telephone companies is that the government allows them free reign, and so they're rolling in profits. "In reality, regulation has significantly increased over the past years, with new taxes and surcharges we're required to charge consumers. They see this as a rate increase by the telephone company, when it truly hurts our business and customer relations."

The biggest challenge, he said, is keeping up with the evolving technology. "It's been changing so rapidly that it's difficult to do any long-term planning."

In addition to changes in technology, changes in employees can be a challenge in his industry. "MTCO has always had the opinion that if you treat your employees right, you'll have good, faithful, and long-term employees," he said. "When we recruit, we look for employees with integrity and a sense of good moral values. We've also found fair pay and good benefits are a huge help in retaining good employees."

Keeping good employees is one of the keys that sets MTCO apart in its industry, Rauh said. "I believe it's MTCO's locally owned, hometown-style, professional customer service that sets us apart from the rest. We're big enough that we can service all of your communication needs, but small enough to treat each customer on a personal and professional level. MTCO is dedicated to providing the best service available, no matter which MTCO service you're using. Our commitment is demonstrated in the large amount of business that comes from people who've been referred to us by a current customer-and that's what we strive for."

He said the most rewarding aspect of being involved with the company is making customers happy. "I enjoy seeing the pleasure on a face of a customer who's struggled with and switched from another provider and finally is pleased with the kind of customer service they've received from MTCO. We may not always be the cheapest service in town, but if you want a quality product at a fair price-with the best customer service in town-MTCO is what you're looking for."
Predicting what the next year will hold is difficult in the communication industry, Rauh said-let alone where the company will be in the next decade. "Communications is changing so rapidly that it's almost impossible to define where MTCO will be-except to say that MTCO will be at the forefront of whatever new technologies come along." IBI