Fiber optics is wave of future

Fiber optics is the next step in telecommunications, a way to future-proof the rapidly increasing need for bandwidth in a digital world. That's what Consolidated Telcom is hoping with "Fiber to the Home," the company's current $20 million, three-...

Fiber optics is the next step in telecommunications, a way to future-proof the rapidly increasing need for bandwidth in a digital world.

That's what Consolidated Telcom is hoping with "Fiber to the Home," the company's current $20 million, three-year project to wire fiber optic lines to all of its customers in southwestern North Dakota.

"We're at the point we were need to upgrade our facilities. Fiber to the Home was a fail-safe solution for the long-term," said Consolidated General Manager Paul Schuetzler. "It's where the technology is moving. We're not going to be able to do this over copper facilities; with the fiber-optic facilities we don't see any limits."

This new fiber-optic will allow Consolidated to offer additional services such as digital cable and faster Internet to rural subscribers.

Rhonda Dukart, Consolidated public relations and marketing manager, said the project began in spring 2006 with the construction/wiring of towns north of Dickinson. These towns included Richardton, Taylor, Killdeer, Halliday, Dunn Center and Dodge.


The company has started to go back to these areas to begin turning on services, Dukart said. The first towns to receive service will be Taylor and Richardton, likely within the next month.

Taylor will be done first because of what Dukart said was the immediate need for the town's telecommunications system to be repaired.

Construction and wiring for the region south of Dickinson began in May with construction around Hettinger, Reeder and Scranton. Construction will continue through the summer in Bowman, New England, Mott, South Heart, Regent and Rhame.

Dukart said those towns could receive cable services as early as next fall, but likely next spring.

Dukart and Schuetzler both said the biggest obstacle with finishing the project is using the latest in technology.

"It's always difficult to be on the leading-edge," Schuetzler said. "Our biggest frustration seems to be waiting on our manufactures to deliver what they promised so we can give them to our customers."

A page on Consolidated's website, , was created to keep customers updated on construction progress in their area.

Schuetzler said he felt the cost and risk of the project is justified because of what technology can do for rural areas.


"Of course it's a risk. It's our feeling that us being (the area's) telecommunications provider, we want to give these towns a chance of prosperity," he said. "If we don't wire our small communities, they won't have a chance."

Consolidated's push for expanded services across the region has opened up the possibility for competition from other regional providers.

The biggest competitor would be Midcontinent Communications, which cannot currently provide full services to southwestern North Dakota due to a rural exception clause taken from the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Midcontinent currently provides cable television service to most of the region, with some areas such as Richardton and Killdeer having additional access to high-speed Internet.

But with Consolidated's push to offer video services to the region, Midcontinent may soon have a chance to fully compete.

"Our folks will have to measure the cost-effectiveness; we're not ready to make an announcement yet. I think we'll have to take a look at these communities," said Tom Simmons, senior vice president of public policy, of Midcontinent Communications.

Simmons said they only become aware of rural companies expanding their services when those companies apply for licenses to provide cable or Internet in towns.

As it stands, he said, while fiber has been installed in the Hettinger/Bowman area, it is not connected to the main Midcontinent network and would require construction for it to be connected.


Simmons said even with Consolidated soon to provide new services in the region, Midcontinent is in the region for the long-term and would never pull service.

"I think that's highly unlikely. I'm sure that's (Consolidated's) goal," he said. "We embrace competition; we don't wish to push anyone out."

Dukart agreed and said Consolidated would welcome any additional competition.

"Technology is in a world of competition," she said. "We compete with many major providers for our services and competition is in the world we live. I'm sure that Midco will be comfortable competing with us. Competition makes us better; we are not afraid to compete."

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