‘What Is a Co-op?’ DirectLink’s Service Model Puts People over Profits

DirectLink is Canby and Mount Angel’s local, member-based provider of internet and telecommunication services. The company prides itself on its unique identity as one of only 260 remaining rural, consumer-owned cooperative organizations in the U.S. today.

Nearly one-third of Americans have ownership in some type of cooperative — though many are unaware of the ways co-ops impact families, communities and local economies in a variety of significant ways.

They hire local people, invest in area causes, and provide essential services. When you purchase services from a cooperative entity like DirectLink, you become a part-owner.

But what exactly is a co-op, in terms of a service provider such as DirectLink? To answer that question, we must go back in time to a different century — and a different era of technology.

It started with the telephone. In the early 1900s, small, rural telephone cooperatives, like what would become known as DirectLink, arose as a solution to what remains a persistent problem in some parts of the world and even the United States: How to deliver communication services in areas too small to be of interest to large corporate providers.

In small but tightly knit farming communities like Canby, the answer was a co-op — a model already familiar to residents because of the existence of agricultural cooperatives. (Learn more about Canby’s specific telephone history in this Canby Then article.)

So, yes, it was farmers who built the country’s independent telephone industry, which boomed through the Roaring ’20s.

Nearly 6,000 cooperatives, mutuals and other types of companies were providing telephone service to rural consumers by 1927, though poor business practices caused many to fail, leaving farmers and rural residents with significantly fewer telephones in 1940 than in 1920.

Fortunately for Canby, such a fate did not befall DirectLink, still known then as Canby Telephone Association. It continued to grow and add new communities to its service area, including welcoming the Citizens Mutual Telephone Company of Needy in 1959.

DirectLink is now one of only 260 remaining telecommunications co-ops in the United States that provide Internet, WiFi, and voice services to 1.2 million rural Americans in 31 states.

Collectively, America’s small, independent telecom companies provide broadband service to more than 35% of the country’s land mass and contribute billions of dollars into the U.S. economy each year.

It’s true: Telecommunications cooperatives account for close to $3.9 billion in revenue, 23,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in wages paid, and an additional $1.8 billion in value-added income, according to research from the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives.

And rural co-ops like DirectLink have proven themselves time and time again with their ability to provide innovative and reliable service.

Co-ops believe their role revolves around partnerships, something deeply embedded in the corporate DNA of DirectLink. Whether it’s sponsoring a local event, hosting educational classes or putting on a member appreciation event, the agency and its employees strive to go above and beyond to serve their community.

And that’s because DirectLink leaders and staff truly are part of the community they serve. They not only work in Canby or Mount Angel; many live here, shop here, worship and learn here as well.

The company’s investment in the local area reaches beyond business interests and extends into the everyday lives of our local neighbors, friends, and families.

Today, DirectLink serves Canby and Mount Angel businesses, government and residential members over dedicated fiber-optic connections, including voice communications, internet access, and WiFi.

At DirectLink, locally hired employees work together to provide internet and telephone services to more than 8,000 members within the co-op’s nearly 100 square miles of service area in both the Canby and Mount Angel footprints.

DirectLink also gives back annually to Canby and Mount Angel-based nonprofits and offers scholarships for continuing education to local students.

Every one of its customers is also a part-owner that shares in the overall success of the cooperative. In fact, customers are referred to as members.

This is also why its staff strives to go above and beyond to give back to educational and community nonprofits and other organizations, as well as create fun, creative initiatives like member BINGO and monthly giveaways.

In the past two years, data from a third-party firm has reported that DirectLink has a 92% likelihood to recommend rating from its members — quite the achievement when the internet industry average is 75%.

For more information about DirectLink, call 503-266-8111 (Canby) or 503-845-2291 (Mount Angel), or visit directlink.coop.

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