From Four-Line Switch to WiFi

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2024 heralds 120 years of local service

Business Spotlight: Direct Link
By Patti Jo Brooks, Contributing Writer | Photos by Andrew Sambuceto

Staying connected is the ultimate goal of every telecommunications network. Canby Telephone Association, known more commonly as DirectLink, takes this task to heart by providing local residents and businesses with the efficiency of fiber optic lines and expanded high-speed internet. Serving the local community for well over a century, DirectLink operates as a cooperative (a company owned by its subscribers and guided by an elected Board of Directors), and today, shares its communication network with approximately 8,000 members throughout Canby and nearby Mt. Angel. If you’re searching for a quality communications provider in the area, let DirectLink be your first call. Their commitment to every member of the co-op is second to none; in fact, according to a 2022 survey, ninety-two percent of the members would recommend DirectLink service to their family, friends or neighbors.

Living a rural lifestyle is a dream for some and a family tradition for many others. Whether breaking away from the hustle and bustle of the city and suburbs or maintaining the family farm, residing in rural areas often means making do with limited services. Canby Telephone Association made sure communications was not one of those limited resources. Formed in 1904, the co-op was started “by just a few farmers who hung some wire from posts so they could communicate,” says Paul Hauer, president of DirectLink. “Back in the day,” he continues, “the large telephone companies didn’t serve the rural areas, so these small co-ops were cropping up all around the Willamette Valley.” Farmers were then able to access the markets so they could sell their crops and livestock in the bigger cities.

On January 14, 1904, Macksburg Mutual Telephone Company started out as a 4-line switchboard. In 1906, it moved to Canby with 15 lines, and in 1916, filed with the state of Oregon as Canby Cooperative Telephone Association; in 1940, the co-op changed its name to Canby Telephone Association. A hundred years after its inception, the Canby company served over 11,000 telephone lines. In 2007, Canby Telephone Association purchased the independent company, Mt. Angel Telephone. Canby Telephone Association rebranded as DirectLink in 2016 and in 2018 Mt. Angel customers were merged into the DirectLink co-op. Over the last fifteen years, DirectLink has been laying fiber optic cable, with a more concentrated effort over the last seven years to reach all the rural areas. With the onset of cell phones and the internet, setting everyone up with a direct connection to fiber, so they have access to Gigabit speed, has been the company’s ultimate goal. Providing state-of-the-art services and supplying superior broadband to its 8,000 members remains DirectLink’s primary focus.

Canby has always been forward-thinking, and DirectLink has always been a leading-edge company, not only in the Northwest but across the country as a whole. Interestingly, the pandemic highlighted the necessity of staying connected. “It opened a lot of people’s eyes,” relates Mr. Hauer, “including the federal government’s.” It became clear how important the internet was, particularly in telemedicine and for school children who needed to complete their studies from home. Likewise, a significant number of employees were able to continue working their jobs from home as long as they were connected via phone and internet. This model proved to be beneficial for efficiencies and work/life balance for those employees. In recognition of that, the federal government put several spending bills into place which allowed many small communications companies to catch up on their fiber builds. DirectLink, already on the forefront for the last decade, won a national award for being a fiber-rich network, and by the time of their project’s completion in 2024-25 (with a few exceptions), “virtually 100 percent of the people in the Canby area will have access to fiber,” expresses Mr. Hauer.

In keeping with the nature of a co-op, DirectLink has always been member-focused. The Board of Directors are elected by the members; they’re part of the community and don’t have any higher stake in the company than any other member. “We’re always looking out for our co-op members,” comments Mr. Hauer. “It’s really about serving the community and giving the community what it needs,” he explains. During orientation, Member Services help individuals select the best plans and services to suit their needs, as well as checking on eligibility for government assistance programs. They also host free community classes by highly-trained employees who cover how to use today’s communication devices, technology and apps, as well as how to stay safe and secure online.

“It’s all about working together,” says Paul Hauer. “We cooperate with other co-ops and we share human resources.” DirectLink also promotes a Builder Program for new housing construction; they oversee and inspect communications wiring before the walls go up, so homeowners can have access to the best internet experience possible right from the start!

Call DirectLink today for all your communication needs! Canby (503)266-8111, Mt. Angel (503)845-2291. Visit the website for information on plans and community news.