Two hometown boys, Adam Vocks and Billy Williams, were lucky enough to find their passion early in life. The two co-founders of CTI both gravitated towards computers and technology when they were just 10 years old. They were both fortunate because the personal computer era was just beginning as the two youngsters were starting their lifelong interest in technology. As Adam and Billy continued learning, it was natural for both of them to find work in the technology industry when they were just teenagers. Attending the same high school, Adam and Billy’s paths would cross occasionally, but Billy was a senior when Adam was just a sophomore, so they didn’t have any classes together. Shortly after Billy graduated from high school, the two crossed paths again when he and Adam started working together at a local computer shop. The two instantly bonded, sharing incredibly unique chemistry and, only after a year of working together, they realized that they wanted to start their very own technology business. The “proposal” was simple. Adam asked Billy, “Do you want to start our own business?” and Billy replied, “Sure, let’s do it!” In June of 1998, the two made the decision that would change their lives forever. They quit their jobs and jumped right into the business world at only 19 and 20 years old. Just like that, a new company, Computer Techniques, Inc. (CTI) was born, and the two young, naive boys were started out on an adventure of a lifetime.
CTI started very modestly as a computer sales, service/repair business, but Adam and Billy instantly saw an opportunity as an Internet Service Provider. The prior company Adam and Billy worked for provided analog dial-up Internet service. Customers on an analog service could connect to the Internet at a speed of 28.8kbps to 33.6kbps. Research showed that you could get another 50-100% faster if you use digital phone lines, so the first order of business was to find out how the two could afford $50,000. Adam spoke with his father, who was very supportive of the two starting a business, and agreed to loan the company $50,000. They secured a lease on a newly constructed building, which is still the current Taylorville office, and then quickly got to work knocking on doors to generate business. Luckily, the community embraced the two fledgling entrepreneurs, and CTI quickly became the go-to place to have your computer worked on. CTI started to provide more and more business technology consulting, and the new 56k all digital dial-up service was the talk of the town. In this time period, technology changed fast. Digital Subscriber Links, better known as DSL, were becoming very popular on the East and West coasts of the nation. CTI started leasing pairs of copper wire from the telephone company to provide this new DSL, always-on, technology. CTI’s dial-up Internet customers started switching to DSL almost immediately. However, unlike the dial-up Internet business, the telephone company wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines anymore. They became a fierce competitor providing their own DSL at a cost less than CTI was able to. CTI’s foothold on the market began to shift when the telephone company began offering bundled packages of telephone and Internet service.
To offset declining revenues from dial-up and not seeing a way to compete effectively with the telephone company on a DSL product, CTI decided to start offering Fixed Wireless Internet. The concept was a new spin on a technology that had been around for several years. CTI installed antennas on high structures throughout Central IL to send Internet signals to rural customers who would receive that signal through corresponding antennas on their homes and farms. CTI built up this wireless network over the course of a decade and ultimately grew the network from Clinton to Ramsey and from Monticello to Farmersville, an area of 3,000 square miles. With the rise of streaming video services, all technologies from DSL Internet, to Cable Internet, to Wireless Internet became severely stressed with the increased traffic being consumed.
In 2011, Adam and Billy began to research Fiber Internet as a possible solution to consumers’ incredible demand for more and more bandwidth. They traveled the country visiting companies who have worked with fiber optics and those who have deployed fiber optic networks to consumers. While the fiber optic technology has been around since the 1970s, mainly used in long-distance telecommunications, it wasn’t until the late 2000s that the costs started to decline enough to realistically deploy fiber optics on a large scale. The more the guys researched, the more they knew that fiber was the future and the future just had to be now. The two decided that Taylorville, their hometown, was to be the first CTI Fiber community, an incredibly bold undertaking for sure. Now the two had to find out how they were going to finance such a large project with estimates coming in at $5 million. Adam and Billy began asking banks, large and small if they would lend for such a project. Each bank turned down the project. Looking at the business they built over the past 15 years, they found an opportunity to raise some of the money by selling the Wireless Internet part of the business they spent 10 years building. After having a little bit of cash to sweeten the deal, the two would revisit the business plan and try again with several banks, however, once again, they would have no success. Frustrated that they were unable to convince these banks that this would be a successful business and a great investment into the community, Adam and Billy decided that the only way to prove their case was to re-invest everything they own and everything they’ve built up for the past 15 years into starting the fiber optic network in a test neighborhood, not knowing if they would ever get more money to build the rest of the town. When complete, this test neighborhood would only span a few hundred homes and few businesses, a very small part of Taylorville. The success of the fiber network wasn’t coming easy. Sign-up rates were much lower than anticipated, and the company had to work incredibly hard to educate the neighborhoods about Fiber Internet and its many perks. Through perseverance and determination, Adam, Billy, and staff at CTI signed up enough subscribers to make the network profitable. Adam and Billy then found a bank to loan them a small fraction of the required $5 million needed to build Taylorville. With the added funds, the company completed more areas including the downtown business district. Signup rates continued to improve and the company would secure the financing required to build the rest of Taylorville. As more of Taylorville was being completed, word of mouth spread and the community embraced the technology. Before long and once again, CTI was the number one Internet provider in Taylorville.
The company went on to provide Fiber to smaller communities surrounding Taylorville such as Langleyville, Hewittville, and Timberlake. While nearing completion of the Taylorville area, representatives from Montgomery County and their economic development group reached out to Adam and Billy about the possibility of expanding to communities in their county. Adam and Billy visited Hillsboro, IL and fell in love with their downtown charm and most importantly, their desire to grow their town by becoming a fiber connected community. CTI worked with the county and worked out a plan to build Hillsboro and Nokomis. They’ve also remodeled a building in Hillsboro to serve as their Montgomery County office. As Nokomis and Hillsboro are planned to be completed mid-2020, the search for the next CTI Fiber community is underway.