RICHMOND — The Richmond Telephone Co., founded in 1903 by local residents at a time when hand-cranked, wall-mounted, two-piece phones and a party line served multiple customers, has a new owner pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission, a decision expected by the end of the month.
Proper Connections LLC, a regional technology consulting company based in East Greenbush, N.Y., with an office in Pittsfield, has purchased Richmond Telephone from Magna5, formerly CornerStone Telephone, based in Troy, N.Y.
Crista Proper, the founder, president and CEO of Proper Connections, a family-owned business, served as general manager of Richmond Telephone from 2001 to 2011, when she departed to form her own company. Proper is a native and resident of Ancram, N.Y., in Columbia County.
“This is a complete full circle for me in my career,” Proper said. “I want to give back to the community and restore the core values of customer service.”
The purchase price is confidential, she told The Eagle. The acquisition includes the business and its State Road office in Richmond.
“The company plans to clean up the property, upgrade the infrastructure and provide higher-speed technology as well as much better customer service,” Proper said.
Since landlines are becoming “a thing of the past,” she told The Eagle, the company will emphasize higher-speed broadband through investing in an upgrade of the infrastructure.
“We’ll be evaluating all products that can serve residential customers,” Proper explained, noting the surge in streaming video and audio content. Neal Pilson, co-chair of the town’s Cable Advisory Committee and a selectman, welcomed Proper back to town as the new owner of Richmond Telephone.
“I’m sure our residents look forward to improved telephone service and another option for high-speed broadband connections,” he said.
Currently, Richmond Telephone, with 650 customers in the town, provides landline and DSL internet service. The average landline cost, including taxes and surcharges, is $30 per month, Proper said. Landline plus internet costs about $80 monthly. There are no plans to raise rates, but the company will be offering improved services and different packages, she added. “I’m looking forward to the opportunities that this acquisition will bring to us and the local community.”
She plans to reopen the Richmond Telephone office at 1416 State Road (Route 41) to residents after repairs and a cleanup are completed in the near future.
“I want Richmond Telephone Co. customers to be able to come into the office and get to know who we are,” Proper said.
Richmond native Nancy Benedict, 93, recalls working the long overnight shift at the phone company for 50 cents an hour in the 1950s, still in the party-line era.
“But, I never listened in for gossip,” she hastened to point out.
“It was from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., but I had a cot right there so I could sleep between calls,” she said in a phone interview. “It was a good time for me; it was fun.” The switchboard was located in the home of Benedict’s great-aunt, Mary Sherrill. Benedict remains a great fan and loyal customer of the local phone company, which still has its own 40-page directory with just over 900 customers listed.
“It’s worked very well, and the service was always good,” she said.
Proper Connections, the new owner, is a privately held company with more than 40 employees specializing in full-service management of technology services for businesses, including comprehensive account management, phone system sales and maintenance, rural health care administration and project management. Proper’s regional market is in the Northeast, but the company is expanding nationally. Christa Proper has 30 years of experience in the technology industry and has served on many national and regional boards. Her son, Dylan, joined the family business as vice president and chief financial officer after graduating from college in 2014. Robert Pratt and his son, Lee, will be handling maintenance for Proper Connections. They had worked for the company in the past and, more recently, were employed by Magna5.
Richmond Telephone was formed 117 years ago, when 22 town residents paid $70 each to become shareholders. The first switchboard was set up at the railroad station. At the time, about 6,000 small phone companies, mostly family-owned, were operating in areas around the U.S. that the Bell system had passed by as unprofitable. In 1961, J. Benedict Ackley bought the company from the 13 remaining stockholders. His daughter, Lorinda Ackley-Mazur, later became the company’s general manager, president and board chairwoman. In 2000, the company formed Richmond NetWorx, providing voice, internet and data services in competition with national carriers such as Verizon and AT&T. Richmond NetWorx is not part of the Proper Connections acquisition. When CornerStone acquired the state’s smallest telecom in 2009, Richmond Telephone Co. retained its legal status as an independent operation, and that will continue under the new ownership.