Dakota Central Contributes to Culture of Broadband

By Ashley Spinks, Communications Coordinator, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association

May 30, 2018 

Concern for robust, high-quality broadband networks is a defining characteristic of North Dakota—from the governor’s office to individual small towns across the state. Recently, the Dakota Carrier Network (Fargo, N.D.) announced that between its 15 owner companies, it would provide gigabit speed internet service to all of the state’s K–12 schools, higher education institutions and government buildings by August 2019. And earlier this year, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, founder of Great Plains Software and former Senior Vice President of Microsoft Business Solutions Group, announced the Main Street ND initiative to implement programs that would help North Dakota compete in a modern economy—including supports for high-speed internet deployment.

This “support within the capitol” has been helpful as Dakota Central (Carrington, N.D.), an NTCA member company and member of the Dakota Carrier Network, has worked to improve its own network, said Holly Utke, the company’s chief financial officer. Dakota Central has leveraged every possible resource to bring its network to its current state—100% fiber and gigabit-capable. The company spent nearly a decade, from 2003–2011, overbuilding its entire network with fiber, and the network has the latest electronics.. Dakota Central’s comprehensive and modern network has facilitated significant growth in its service area.

Part of that growth has been a massive expansion of the Anne Carlsen Center (ACC), a nonprofit that provides disability services and support and is based in Jamestown, N.D. Recently, ACC has expanded to six new locations, an achievement that the organization largely credits to its robust broadband connection.

A Dakota Central newsletter feature from earlier this year described how many of the devices ACC uses to support its disabled community are wired—from iPads and tablets to technology that helps with therapy exercises. Furthermore, a reliable internet connection has made business operations at ACC more efficient—now, staff are able to video conference with each other, as well as between campuses and with health care facilities.

“Everything the students do is connected to the internet—wheelchairs, smartboards [and] software to help them talk,” Utke said. “Those connections out to the world are important.” 

TRAC Activities Center in Jamestown

It’s not only the Anne Carlsen locations that Dakota Central is serving with gigabit-speed broadband. The company was awarded a Community Connect Broadband Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to bring high speed internet access to rural, underserved areas surrounding Jamestown. In addition, Dakota Central partnered with the Jamestown Regional Medical Center to provide 24/7 public access to broadband, free of charge, within their facility. The Two-Rivers Activities Center (TRAC) in Jamestown is also powered by broadband access from Dakota Central. According to Utke, this new recreational facility has become “a welcome space year-round” and is a “wonderful new anchor to our community [that can] bridge the gap between the generations.” The facility and its security cameras were entirely wired by Dakota Central. 

Moving forward, Dakota Central is exploring new ways to expand and improve its business. Its Jamestown office is located between Fargo and Bismarck, two larger cities, so the town “is conveniently situated and can provide a lot of amenities. It has a young, artsy college-town vibe. Our service area has many strong industries including manufacturing, agriculture and healthcare,” Utke explained.  In other words, it’s a great place to live and work.

Since Dakota Central’s technology is already so modern, the company is considering growing in other ways. “Our customers have always relied on us to be the go-to person, kind of their tech guru. … We’re seeing a real need,” Utke said. “Right now we’re looking at getting into managed business services”—meaning ramping up the IT staff, doing a lot of training, and helping local schools and businesses with tech support. Small, rural telcos such as Dakota Central are driving innovation throughout America’s heartland. You can learn more about NTCA’s certified Gig-Capable Providers here.