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Consolidated Telecom announces plan for USDA grant

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. discusses the award of about $11.6 million in federal funding to Consolidated Telecom during a presentation at the Consolidated office in Dickinson, Wednesday morning.

In an era bursting with technology, some area rural residents are still without such luxuries, but after Consolidated Telecom officially announced its plans for federal funding during a presentation in Dickinson Wednesday morning, slow Internet speeds will be a thing of the past.

"It was with great humility that we recognized the award that we got from RUS (United States Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service)," said Paul Schuetzler, Consolidated's general manager. "The small bit of stimulus that we're getting really will allow us to install over 80 miles of fiber optic cable to about 1,600 customers who are really rural."

About 1,300 households and 300 businesses in rural Dickinson, Gladstone, Belfield and Lefor will have access to high speed Internet and broadband services.

"It is very exciting as these rural customers have had to live with 40 to 50-year-old cable that does not allow any technology -- high speed Internet even caller ID features etc.," Dukart wrote in an e-mail.

After what Dukart cited as a lengthy application process, Consolidated received nearly $11.6 million.

Schuetzler cites it as a "drop in the bucket," in the federal stimulus program and without the funding, the project would not have been feasible.

"If you're one of the 1,300 households getting fiber to the home it might be the drop in the bucket that allows you to work from home," Schuetzler said. "It might be the drop in the bucket that allows you to finally connect via broadband to your grandkids."

Presently, several rural residents only have access to dial-up Internet at speeds of four MB per second, according to a USDA press release. When construction is completed, those customers will have voice, video and data services up to 100 MB per second.

Jonathan Adelstein, administrator of USDA RUS, said USDA makes bringing broadband services into rural areas a top priority.

"This is world class broadband right to the farm, right here in North Dakota," Adelstein said.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said awarding federal dollars for technological expansion in rural areas is largely debated in Washington, D.C., some saying no as it is a choice to live in a rural area.

"If you're going to have a United States of America, you've got to have people out across the entire country," Conrad said. "It can't just be an urban America ... but you've got to have a network of people and institutions that dot the countryside. I personally think it is incredibly important to the future of our country that we have people spread across the countryside."

Schuetzler said the project's environmental impact studies are being conducted and come spring thaw, lines will be laid.

The project is slated to last about a year to two years, with the first rural customers receiving the new service starting at the end of next fall.

"These investments lay the long-term framework for economic success and stimulating rural communities and allowing rural communities to grow," said Jasper Schneider, state director of USDA Rural Development.