Decades of Connections, Generations of Service

Around Unity, Maine, a lot of residents know Gene Drew as “Gene the telephone man.” But to Drew, he’s just known as “Gramp.” This grandfather-grandson duo are lucky enough to work together in the Outside Plant Department at UniTel.

Drew Fowler, left, and his grandfather, Gene Drew

UniTel has been providing service to this area of central Maine for 118 years. It began providing voice service in the days where many rural towns did not have voice access because the big providers would not come to those areas. Companies like UniTel popped up all over the country to serve their communities.

For over a decade, UniTel has greatly expanded its offerings and has invested over ten million dollars expanding their broadband network throughout the most rural sections of their service territory. But the story remains similar – nationwide providers have been reluctant to bring broadband internet to areas that are rural, leading to a digital divide. If not for companies like UniTel that stepped in to offer broadband internet, Unity and surrounding towns would have far fewer options than larger cities to connect to the rest of the world.

Gene Drew started with UniTel in 1984 as Lineman – he would go out to respond to customer service calls and climb the poles. After several years, he moved to work in “Outside Plant” where he now installs fiber internet (the fastest internet available), as well as other network elements. “When I started there were four linemen, and about 15 people in the entire company,” recalled Gene. Now it’s about 25 people.

When Drew was a kid, he knew his grandfather worked for the “phone” company, saw him come home for lunch, even went out with him on the job sometimes. “I definitely wanted to be like Gramp,” he said with a smile. When the time came for Drew to work, though, he didn’t have any training for this particular type of job. So UniTel took a gamble on hiring him and Drew has not only expanded his technical skills but loves to go the extra mile exceeding the customer’s expectations.

Now the two have been working together for a year in the same department, and often even riding to jobs in the same vehicle.

“UniTel is dedicated to our customers. They’re a great company to work for, with great customer service,” said Gene. “Great internet especially if you choose fiber. I like heading out for service calls, taking care of the customer, and leaving them a little better off than when I arrived.”

Drew agrees. “People are happy with UniTel and happy to see us arrive. Right now a lot of people are working from home; some of the kids are in remote school. The customers also use UniTel fiber internet for streaming, security cameras, or Alexas. It’s nice to be able to help them be connected.”

• Favorite Streaming Service? Both men say Netflix.
• Favorite Food? Drew’s is steak, while Gene likes venison.
• Favorite Hobby? Gene likes fly fishing while Drew favors snowmobiling.