Telco installs fiber infrastructure in rural Minnesota to attract businesses with high-bandwidth needs

West Central Telephone Association (www.wcta.com) of Sebeka, MN has embarked on a network-upgrade project designed to push fiber deep into its system to attract businesses with high-bandwidth needs to this rural area.

West Central Telephone Association (www.wcta.com) of Sebeka, MN has embarked on a network-upgrade project designed to push fiber deep into its system to attract businesses with high-bandwidth needs to this rural area. West Central Telephone will put every customer within 12,000 feet of one of its 88 digital loop carriers.

“West Central Telephone is readying its 602-square-mile service area for high-tech jobs in the digital economy,” said ADC (www.adc.com) in a statement announcing the project. ADC is the main infrastructure supplier for West Central Telephone’s fiber upgrade.

According to Sheldon Sagedahl, operations manager for West Central Telephone, planning for the network upgrade began more than two years ago, and the upgrade is in progress. “We are preparing ourselves to offer the ‘big three’-voice, data, and video. We have run fiber-to-the-home in the village of Sebeka as a test bed, to let us know what works and what needs to be worked out.

“We are a cost company,” Sagedahl emphasized, underscoring the idea that his company must be able to install fiber at a competitive cost, so it can in turn provide its customers with cost-competitive services. West Central Telephone provides long-distance, Internet, and cable TV to its customers in addition to local phone service. It also provides interactive TV for area schools.

When asked whether West Central Telephone will install fiber to each customer building, Sagedahl recalled, “That was debated for some time. We are putting innerduct to every home.” He adds that the company will also install a “clamshell”-a protective device that houses optical equipment-at each customer building.

Sagedahl points out that the majority of his customers are residential, yet the high-capacity network being built will be able to serve the needs of enterprises that can consume significantly more bandwidth. CrossUSA (www.cross-usa.com) is an example of a high-tech company currently using West Central Telephone’s advanced service offerings. Headquartered in Eagan, MN, CrossUSA bills itself as an alternative to offshore IT-outsourcing services. CrossUSA has developed a concept it calls ROOTS, which stands for rural office of technology services. The company says the concept “brings software development to locations outside of metropolitan areas and has been successful by leveraging modern communications technology with skilled, abundant, eager, and hardworking individuals available in rural America.”

Ambitions like those of CrossUSA require the networking infrastructure commonly found in metropolitan areas to be available in rural communities as well. “Our investment in a fiber infrastructure allows us to offer our customers state-of-the-art technology,” says Anthony Mayer, general manager for West Central Telephone. “As a result, we’ve recruited new businesses to this part of Minnesota that would otherwise not have been attracted to this rural area. Our investment in fiber is what allows us to offer cutting-edge communications technology and positions us for future economic growth.”

Trevor Smith, senior product manager with ADC, reflects on the movement of fiber-to-the-premises initiatives to places other than the largest urban areas. “Many times, discussion of FTTX is limited to Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. For rural America, FTTX is a quality-of-life issue. It helps these areas maintain the business operations necessary for survival.”

He adds that as fiber-to-the-premises operations go, major telecommunications carriers have targeted densely populated, primarily single-family residential communities and are now turning their attention to multi-dwelling units. The third step, he says, will be commercial buildings.

Sagedahl says West Central Telephone’s next step, like the one it is currently taking, will be well thought-out. “We have to keep moving and keep planning. We’re continually working on a five-year plan.”

-Patrick McLaughlin

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