I am grateful to have this yearly opportunity to connect with our members and share cooperative happenings. It allows GBT representatives to visit and provide members with our successes, challenges, finances, and plans for the future.
For 70 years, all our member-owners have trusted us to connect you to the world. Although we call this an annual meeting, it is really a celebration for you, our member-owners. This year embarks a special celebration as the cooperative not only celebrates its 70th year in business, but also anticipates crossing the finish line on connecting every member with FIBER!!! The Cooperative covers over 3,200 square miles with 1.6 members per mile, so this mark comes with a lot of pride from the GBT team. This kind of accomplishment doesn’t happen without a vision that has covered many decades of sound leadership, planning, and commitment from past and present Board members and employees.
Over the last couple decades, that vision includes investing in fiber; GBT believes a fiber investment is one that keeps the future in mind. A fiber network transforms rural areas by strengthening commerce, advancing education, enabling precision agriculture, and improving healthcare. The GBT Board gave the direction to begin plowing fiber to its members in 2007, and now in 2023, we are 97% complete! GBT has invested over $46 million dollars in fiber to the home builds since the Board directed back in ‘07. In 2022, the rural areas of Garfield and nearly all the Bison exchange were completed, along with the City of St. John. It is our objective to build the rural areas of Burdett, Otis, Utica, and Beeler this year, along with the cities of Larned, Macksville, and Stafford. We can be grateful that our financial position comes at a time when we are on the cusp of a capital expenditure program of more than $15 million in fiber deployment. The cooperative feels very strongly about ensuring our members have a reliable and quality broadband connection. These investments should make sure our members can achieve their broadband needs long into the future.
Although we are very bullish on our future, that optimism gets a little clouded with reality. Our country is facing many economic pressures that make it challenging for many businesses. Our team cannot ignore or think that we are immune from the volatility, reliance on federal funding, workforce pressures, and supply chain disruptions that are the result of the times. A lot of what we can do is driven by policy in Washington, D.C. because of the financial requirements to build in rural areas. Trying to predict the future of our industry has become much more difficult. As administrations and technology change, so do regulations and funding mechanisms that directly impact our business. The Cooperative is reliant on federal funding for about 50% of its revenues, so it is important for us to continue to educate our elected officials on the requirements of connecting and maintaining a broadband network. Our success is highlighted by getting every member connected with fiber. However, there are areas in rural America that are broadband deserts.
Although none of us want to go back to the pandemic years, it did bring to light the lack of broadband in those areas of rural America. This has provided some opportunities for GBT to expand its network. As a result, this past year our team has spent time planning and applying for several grant programs. These programs are highly competitive and time intensive. Through a lot of hard work by the GBT team and in collaboration with Pawnee County officials, we were awarded a grant to build the rural Larned exchange.
As we talk about intense, our staff knows how busy everyone is these days. That is why our customer experience team offers a multitude of ways to do business with us. This spring we rolled out a new website that allows customers to pay bills, sign-up and shop for services, troubleshoot, and search for product information. If you haven’t signed up for e-bill or auto-pay, we encourage you to do so.
GBT is also dedicated to our communities by supporting area events, activities, and projects that serve the needs of the area. We do this in many fashions by sponsorships, volunteering, and educating, it is truly what makes us unique. The cooperative was proud to award over $20,000 to local area youth in 2022. One of those youth will be joining the GBT team after completing schooling as part of a partnership that was formed with NCK Tech to develop industry workforce. Every day I am impressed by the people who lead and operate the cooperative. The employees of GBT are a motivated, talented, hard-working team, and I want to make sure I recognize them for the products and services they deliver to our membership. We are lucky to have such incredible people working behind the scenes to connect your homes, businesses, and communities. As we embark on this celebratory year and journey, our efforts are inspired by our membership. GBT takes great responsibility in knowing that it is part of the economic engine that feeds our service territory. Our team sets out every day with great pride and passion to provide our members with reliable state-of-the-art communication services. Thank you for your continued support and patronage.
All the Best-