Residents of Kotzebue founded OTZ Telephone in 1975. Tired of unreliable and expensive phone service delivered by large, out-of-area companies, local people decided we needed to start our own company that has our people’s interests at heart.
The word went out and many interested people met at Walsh’s Store, where they discussed incorporating into a company and buying out the existing provider. They formed the first Board of Directors, which included James Gregg as president, Alex Hills, Albert Adams, Nellie Ward and Thomas Sheldon. Then with the help of both Native corporations in Kotzebue (NANA and KIC), OTZ Telephone Cooperative Inc. was born to provide locally owned telephone service at affordable rates.
The first years were dedicated to installing phones in region villages and building local infrastructure. In 1988, OTZ added two seats to the Board to better represent the villages. With the Telecommunications Act of 1996, OTZ Telecommunications was created to provide long distance service to members.
As technologies advanced, so did OTZ.
The company introduced its own Internet service in 1996 and was the first rural Alaska telecommunications company to provide high-speed Internet access to all communities in Northwest Alaska. OTZ also invested in the infrastructure necessary to provide wireless (cellphone) service in Kotzebue, then expanding to the villages.
Over the years, OTZ has invested more than $18 million into making OTZ one of the best rural telephone cooperatives in the entire country.
We currently serve approximately 4,000 residential and business customers and employ 27 employees — all right here in Northwest Alaska. Thirty-one years after that first meeting at Walsh’s Store, OTZ is still owned by us – all residing withing the Cooperative service area or within Northwest Alaska.