Picture your neighbors using old surplus army field telephones with the military wire strung along the ground, struggling to find a way to communicate with those in their own community.
Now picture the daily lives of so many in the Matanuska Valley: taking meetings and attending classes over a computer screen, ordering a prescription refill with a few clicks, and competing in video games against participants from other continents.
The connecting thread between these two disparate eras is a co-op that has pushed our community and state forward each and every step of the way.
As Alaska continues to grow and evolve along with the broader technological landscape, we couldn’t be prouder of how MTA has grown and evolved to better serve our communities throughout its 70 years.
Back in the early 1950s, the Matanuska Valley was largely a farming and coal mining community, with less than 1,200 people and reliable phone service a rare commodity.
Recognizing the clear need for improved communications throughout the Valley - particularly in the towns of Wasilla and Palmer, where the population was beginning to grow - a group headed by Lou Hanks formed the foundation for MTA, with Hanks serving as the first president of the board.
Member growth was slow in the early years, urging people to sign up through various creative means. Soon there was enough of a member base that MTA became a known and reliable entity in the community.
Progress and innovation were relative; for example, phone service became a reality for most in the community, but members were still billed by hand. Construction moved swiftly through the Mat-Su Valley, but crews still had to put all of their equipment on the railroad because the Parks highway wasn’t built yet.
It didn’t take long before it was clear that, through every twist, turn and trend that arose in the Mat-Su area and throughout Alaska, MTA has had a member-friendly answer for it - from the earliest phone lines to the introduction of the internet to remote learning and work.
The projects we’ve undertaken in the last few years truly add perspective to those early days of military wire. Our historic AlCan ONE project made headlines throughout the world as the first all-terrestrial fiber line from Alaska to the Lower 48 states; our team has served as expert thought leaders at international conferences; we’ve even welcomed NFL and NBA stars as guests at our annual esports tournament.
In 2022 we saw an opportunity to deepen our connections to the Lower 48 by extending the AlCan ONE project – bringing an additional secure, geographically diverse, high-speed connection to the Ma-Su Valley. This extension allows MTA to meet the need for fast and survivable telecommunications to the Midwest and East Coast while putting to rest any chance of a disaster or crisis cutting Alaska off from the rest of the U.S.
It is surreal to compare our earlier products and their goals with the types of forward-looking products we are offering now, which likely would’ve sounded like science fiction to our earliest members. For example, our recently rolled-out feature Boost helps ensure that those working from screens at home, relying on telehealth meetings, or attending school remotely have what they need to feel successful.
Bringing MTA’s members into the future also includes its own team, rooted from within. The work MTA has done modernizing and future-proofing its workforce will ensure that our team is not only delivering what our members need, but that they are happy, healthy and safe while doing it, with new opportunities for continued education and training, and greater flexibility about where and when they work.
With the work we’ve done to future-proof our services, products and workforce in recent years, I am more confident than ever that the rate of our forthcoming innovations will grow exponentially.
We don’t know what the next 70 years will bring, but MTA has repeatedly demonstrated that it will remain one step ahead of every trend and turning point. While our work is vast, if MTA stays focused on connecting, innovating and empowering, we will remain a force for growth and progress in the great state of Alaska and beyond.