Welcome to the North Dakota Association of Telephone Cooperative's website. The Association represents members of North Dakota's independent telephone industry.
Telecommunications is perhaps the most exciting, dynamic industry in the world today. It will be the foundation of information-based economies in the 21st century, remove physical isolation as a barrier to knowledge and bring new efficiencies to business and education. While the possibilities are endless, being on the wrong side of the "Digital Divide" or not having access to a state-of-the-art network carries severe penalties. Those that have access to the best telephone service, information technology services and fastest Internet service will have a insurmountable advantage in the fields of training, business, education and communications.
The North Dakota independent telephone industry is working tirelessly to ensure that our residents have access to the information-technologies that allow them to compete with anyone in the world and a telecommunications network that is second-to-none.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in rural North Dakota installing digital switching, laying fiber optics to every central office in the state and beyond and reconfiguring local networks to bring Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and other high-speed services to residents in the smallest communitites. Over $115 million has been spent in the last three years just upgrading these facilities.
In fact, the men and women working in rural North Dakota's telephone industry represent one of the brightest stars in the state's economy. Rural telephone companies employ over 850 people and provide some of the highest paying jobs, while pumping over $30 million in wages alone into these rural communities each year.
These rural telephone companies have a wonderful story to tell. A common misperception is that because they are rural companies they are somehow inferior in their service, perspective or technology. To the contrary, these companies and the men and women who are responsible for their operations are among the most progressive, determined and dedicated to the prosperity of their members and subscribers of any telecommunications providers in the world.
In addition to local service, independent telephone companies in the state provide Internet services, direct broadcast satellite, cable television, long distance services, wireless services, a statewide backbone network and are frequently the financing and expertise for economic development within their communities. Each and everyone of these companies realized the potential early on of the Internet and committed to local dial-up access so that each of their subscribers could receive those services toll-free, regardless of where they lived.
It was this same commitment to the people of North Dakota that led the independent telephone companies to create The Dakota Carrier Network, a high-speed, large-capacity backbone network that ensures rural North Dakotan's the most modern technology in accessing the information superhighways of today and in the future.
The independent industry is making a similar commitment with their deployment of broadband services. North Dakota's vast distances, high-cost and low-density per square mile make it extremely expensive to serve and introduce high-speed technologies. Virtually every independent telephone company in the state has deployed broadband service within their service territory and continue to rebuild their networks to take that service further and further beyond the central office. Sometimes it takes innovative approaches--at least one of the telephone cooperatives is offering wireless internet through their MMDS system.
Bringing the most modern telecommunications services to North Dakotans is not easy and it is not inexpensive. In fact, providing world-class technology to rural residents in the Great Plains makes a horrible "business case", but, more importantly, it is the right thing to do. The North Dakota independent telephone industry in the state will continue to do the right thing. They know that investing in technology and in their communities and in their subscribers is the only way to make sure that we all do not end up on the wrong side of the Digital Divide.
The North Dakota Association of Telephone Cooperatives is a organization almost half a century old that prospers because of the simple eloquence of its original mission and the recognition by its members the Association must evolve as the needs of its member companies and subscribers "at the end of the line" continue to change.
Directors from nine of eleven North Dakota telephone cooperatives met at the Patterson Hotel in Bismarck in March of 1953 to "guard against unfavorable legislation, exchange information among the members and promote the general welfare of telephone cooperatives to the end that adequate and economical communications systems be made available to all residents of North Dakota." Much of the original incorporators' mission statement remains as the bedrock of what the Association is called upon to do today, although the challenges and opportunities in this century would be incomprehensible to those that preceded us in the industry.
We are mindful, however, that many of the issues those far-sighted men and women faced were equally, if not more so, daunting in that day and age. In 1950, the Rural Electrification Administration sent two teams of engineers to North Dakota to assess the feasibility of telephone projects in the State. Their assessment was that it could not be done. There were just too few people spread too thinly across the State.
It is important to appreciate the state of rural telephony in this nation and in North Dakota in that day and age to appreciate the significance of the achievement of telephone cooperatives and the independent telephone industry. To illustrate the sorry state of telecommunications in rural America, Mr. Donnell Haugen, a early director of Reservation Telephone Cooperative in Parshall, North Dakota testified before the United States Senate Agricultural Appropriations Committee in 1953. Mr. Haugen told members of the Senate that only about half the rural population in America had any telpehne servi e and less than twenty-five percent of rural people had satsfactory service. Because of the depression in the 1930's fewer farmers had telephone service in 1940 than there had been in 1920.
In 1950, North Dakota had about 120,000 telephones. Of that number, 91,000 served the larger cities and were owned by five companies, including Northwestern Bell Telephone. Of the remaining 29,000 telephones in North Dakota, 17,000 were owned by 114 telephone companies which operated 140 exchanges. The other 11,000 telephones were operated by over 700 stock companies.
A book by the name of "Talking Wires" was published in the mid-1970's and chronicles the history of rural telephony in North Dakota. Its authors noted that many of the small telephone companies were family operations consisting of a single exchange which served a rural community. In most of these cases, the wives would operate the switchboards in their homes and the husbands would take care of line maintenance. The stock companies generally were farmer-owned lines where anywhere from three to thirty farmers might put up enough money to install a telephone line connecting their farms. By 1950, virtually all of these farmer lines were connected to switchboards in nearby towns, but it was not uncommon for telephone lines to connect a handful of farmers and provide for no telephone contact with the outside world.
We tend to think of our world much different today, but in many ways the challenges and battles that we fight are eerily similar to those faced by the pioneers of rural telephony fifty years ago. While a half a century ago we debated how to bring telephone service to the most remote, least populated areas of our State, today we have those same discussions on how to deliver broadband capability and high-speed services to those same customers. In the public policy arena, whether it be Federal or here in North Dakota, there is every bit the need today as there was in 1953 to tell our story, but more importantly, the story of those hard working men and women at "the end of the line" who created a telephone company for themselves because no one else would and use it today because it is the vehicle that best meets their telecommunications.