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Every Step of the Way

By Nick Southwick • Photos Supplied

When Alexander Graham Bell was issued a patent for his telephone device in 1876 the United States was experiencing a Post-Civil War and Reconstruction period of growth and change. To utilize the technology of Bell’s invention, small local phone companies sprang up across the U.S. and Canada. One of those startups was right here in the North Country. Mooers resident Maurice Knapp and Champlain resident Orin Southwick, along with investor A.B. Spellman, saw an opportunity and moved quickly to found Champlain Telephone Company (CTC) in 1903.

Knapp and Southwick each owned small lumber yards which offered a convenient source for poles. Working in crews of two to five people, poles and wire were placed to create a local communications network. They applied for certification from the New York State Public Service Commission, were approved, and were able to connect with what was called the Bell Telephone Network. Since much of the 124 square mile territory CTC was granted was farmland, it took time to build a system to service primarily residential customers in Rouses Point, Champlain, Mooers, Mooers Forks, and Altona. In its early years CTC also provided phone service to Hemmingford, Quebec, but as rules governing border crossings were strengthened, the Canadian operation was sold to Bell Canada in 1920.

By the early 1920s the company had set up a party line system with as many as 18 households on one line. In those days calls still needed to be manually connected by switchboard operators. CTC’s operators were always local and many spoke French, a decided advantage in a territory that ran along the Quebec/U.S. border. The operators were well respected and viewed as the gatekeepers to communication with others.

Time and changes in technology shaped the growth of Champlain Telephone Company over the ensuing decades. Until the early 1980s CTC, and companies like it, were constrained from doing business outside their original service areas. However, all that changed in 1983 when the federal government declared AT&T a monopoly and ordered it to divest. For CTC, this meant they were no longer required to purchase equipment from AT&T.

The ability to sell phone equipment directly to consumers within and outside its original territory, opened new opportunities. CTC formed K&S Communication (named for Knapp and Southwick) in 1983 as a subsidiary and began selling phone equipment within its territory, as well as in surrounding areas.

The fledgling internet of the 1990s was dial up and relied on telephone lines, but fiber optics soon took over to augment services. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed the creation of Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLEC) which led to the formation of Primelink, a subsidiary of K&S Communications.

The late 1990s offered additional opportunities for Primelink. The closure of Plattsburgh Air Force Base opened a new market for services on the former military facility. Primelink entered the bidding process and was successful, leading to a major expansion.

In the same time period, the company embarked on a venture to run fiber from Montreal to Albany to provide a fiber optic internet backbone to the area. It was built along the railroad tracks, and connected to major cities in the area. From this backbone, Primelink was able to expand fiber throughout much of the city of Plattsburgh. The connection led to later growth in the Glens Falls/Queensbury area, and Washington and Saratoga Counties.

In 2010, PrimeLink, as a partner with the Development Authority of the North Country (DANC), became an integral part of the construction of the $9.8 million Adirondack-Champlain Telemedicine Information Network known as ACTION, the 239-mile network that linked medical facilities in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Rensselaer, Saratoga, St. Lawrence, Warren, and Washington Counties. It allowed participants to more easily access and share information and reduce costs for the transfer of medical data. ACTION increased the use of interactive audiovisual media for consulting, long-distance examinations and procedures.

In 2020 First Light, an internet service provider based in Albany, New York , acquired Primelink’s telecommunications infrastructure, customers and its name. As a result, the remaining segment of the company needed to reinvent itself. Rebranded as LayerEight, a reference to IT service levels, the new company provides local customer service, partners with clients to create customized technology plans, and creates long-term customer relationships.

The COVID pandemic caused many companies that had never considered work from home options, to reach out to LayerEight for guidance. During the same time period, parent company Champlain Telephone Company rebranded itself as Champlain Technology Group (CTG) to better reflect the wider range of services it provided.

No history of Champlain Telephone Company would be complete without recognizing the people who guided its growth — Maurice Knapp; his son Kenneth; Kenneth’s wife, Edith; nephew and current company president, Trent Trahan; Orin Southwick; his son Charles; and his son David.

And as for growth over the past 120 years, the “Little Company That Could” has continued to grow, evolve and adapt to the technology landscape and meet the communication needs of the residents of the Northern Tier.

Over the years, telephone service has shifted from party lines and switchboards to single private lines with direct dial. Champlain Telephone Company kept up with the changes every step of the way. A telecommunications industry acronym, “POTS and PANS” – Plain Old Telephone Service to Pretty Amazing New Stuff” summarizes the company’s attitude toward change.

Congratulations to CTC on 100+ years of service in a complicated, ever-changing industry.

Champlain Technology Group

11118 State Route 9

Champlain, NY 12919

518 298-2411


142 Boynton Ave.

Plattsburgh, NY 12901

518 324-5978

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