Agri-Valley Communications, Inc. (AVCI) is the parent company of Pigeon Telephone, Thumb Cellular, Agri-Valley Services and the AVS Tech Team. Headquartered in Pigeon, Michigan, the family-owned corporation is focused on providing communication and technology services to rural Michigan communities, including those in the Thumb and Northern regions of the state.
Through its subsidiaries, the company offers landline telephone, cellular voice and data, and broadband internet services. Additionally, it provides computer and networking support throughout Michigan’s Huron, Tuscola and Sanilac counties via the AVS Tech Team.
AVCI is a supporter of community betterment, providing grants, scholarships, volunteered time and charitable donations to local non-profit organizations.
The timeline below details our 110+ years of providing big-city services to our rural community.
The telephone is patented by Alexander Graham Bell and the first successful voice transmission by telephone is made.
A Rural Community is Born
The Village of Pigeon, Michigan is incorporated. Local farmers have been stringing telephone wires on fence posts to bring telephone service to their rural farmlands.
Establishing Pigeon Telephone
Pigeon Telephone established by John J. Campbell as part of the Valley Telephone Exchange. Manual switchboards and operators are housed in Campbell’s general store in downtown Pigeon.
The Spence Family Era
Pigeon Telephone is sold by Campbell to oil and sugar beet salesman James Spence. At that time, the utility had 275 subscribers.
A severe sleet storm damages most of the wired network. Local farmers begin turning over ownership of their privately-strung telephone wires to Spence in exchange for repairs and significant upgrades.
Passing the Baton
Pigeon Telephone is acquired by Crawford “Ham” Spence and Robert Spence upon the death of their father James.
The Last Holdout
The last independently owned telephone line within the Pigeon exchange, the “McKinley Farmers’ Line” just north of Pigeon in McKinley Township, is acquired by Pigeon Telephone.
The End of an Era
Pigeon Telephone is upgraded to a totally automated “cross-bar relay system”, making manual switchboards obsolete.
A New Direction
Pigeon Telephone is sold by the Spence family to Pigeon businessmen John E. Eichler and Willis “Bill” Hengy. By now the company has surpassed 1,200 subscribers.
Expanded Horizons, Part 1
Twining Telephone Company, serving the communities of Twining and Turner in Michigan’s Arenac County, is purchased from Emory and Rose Curriston. The purchase adds approximately 400 subscribers. The company is fully merged into Pigeon Telephone by 1986.
Expanded Horizons, Part 2
Alba Telephone Company, serving the Michigan’s Antrim County’s Alba and Lakes of the North telephone exchanges, is acquired from Ron and Hazel McGregor. The company serves approximately 500 subscribers. It is merged into Pigeon Telephone in early 1982.
Pigeon Telephone cuts over to an all-new network of buried weather-safe cable and state-of-the-art switching equipment housed at a newly constructed central office near downtown Pigeon.
A Solid Footing
John E. Eichler and local farmer James J. Christner become the sole proprietors of Pigeon Telephone. Christner continues to serve on on the present-day AVCI Board of Directors.
Restructuring for Tomorrow
Agri-Valley Communications, Inc. (AVCI) is founded as a subsidiary of Pigeon Telephone to handle non-regulated communications services.
AVCI later becomes the parent company of Pigeon Telephone and all other subsidiaries in 1994.
Laying the Groundwork
Pigeon Telephone is upgraded to digital switching equipment to pave the way for emerging technologies including dial-up internet access.
John Eichler’s sons are appointed key leadership positions within the company. Edwin H. Eichler is appointed as President and CEO, and Neal B. Eichler is named Vice President.
Building a Legacy
Pigeon Telephone begins offering Improved Mobile Telephone Service (IMTS), which is the predecessor of modern cellular mobile phone service. Due to its superior transmission distance, many ships navigating Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay use IMTS until the early 2000s.
On December 13, the FCC awards Pigeon Telephone with a license to provide cellular phone service in Huron, Tuscola and Sanilac Counties. The license is awarded on John Eichler’s birthday, just months after his passing.
Continuing John Eichler’s vision for the future of Pigeon Telephone, Thumb Cellular is founded as a separate entity to provide cellular mobile phone service to Huron, Tuscola and Sanilac counties.
The Age of the Internet
Agri-Valley Services, then known as ‘AVCI.net’, is formed as an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and begins providing dial-up services across the Thumb and northern Michigan.
Ahead of the Curve
Agri-Valley Services solidifies its presence as a rural broadband provider by introducing fixed-wireless broadband internet services in 2004. DSL broadband services available to Pigeon Telephone customers followed soon after. AVS is among the first high-speed internet service providers to serve homes, farms and businesses in the Upper Thumb community.
Pigeon Telephone expands to serve the communities of Sand Point and Mud Creek. It reaches a peak of 3,500 subscribers.
Serving a Need
The AVS Tech Team is created as the computer repair and networking branch of Agri-Valley Services.
Losing Our Matriarch
AVCI matriarch Pauline Eicher passes away. Following the death of her husband John in 1988, Pauline became the primary shareholder in the company. She began her career as a Pigeon Telephone operator for the Spence family and later managed administration duties in the corporate office with her husband, John, and into retirement with her sons, Edwin and Neal.
The New Generation
A new generation joins the family business. Peter Eichler, son of Edwin, and Hans Eichler, son of Neal, are appointed to the AVCI Board of Directors.
A Future of Potential
Continuing the legacy of John J. Eichler, today’s leaders of Agri-Valley Communications, Inc. are constantly evaluating bleeding-edge communications technologies and how to best serve our communities.