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Column: Midco was not the first to bring gigabit internet service to the state

It was enjoyable reading The Forum's expansive coverage last week of Midco beginning to offer gigabit internet service in the Fargo-Moorhead area in 2017. It was similarly encouraging to see Gov. Doug Burgum's effusive praise of the company's inv...

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It was enjoyable reading The Forum's expansive coverage last week of Midco beginning to offer gigabit internet service in the Fargo-Moorhead area in 2017. It was similarly encouraging to see Gov. Doug Burgum's effusive praise of the company's investment in a technology used by the North Dakota telecom cooperatives and small locally-owned commercial companies for several years.

It continues to be a source of amazement to many in the telecom industry that incremental moves by one provider in the state receives so much attention for providing a service in a handful of communities that is widespread, although unacknowledged, throughout much of North Dakota. Perhaps the headline should have read "Welcome Fargo customers to a technology that has been widely available to the rural residents of Hettinger, Edgeley or Park River for years."

Actually, it wouldn't be the same. Unlike the service being offered in limited areas chronicled in The Forum's story, the gigabit service offered by the cooperatives and small commercial companies in North Dakota is available beyond the city limits. It is their experience that all North Dakotans need access to the educational and economic benefits that high speed broadband needs, not just those living in town.

As you know, the determination of the independent telecom industry to make available gigabit service to rural North Dakota is well known. Coincidentally, next week is the 5-year anniversary of former Gov. Jack Dalrymple's 2012 announcement that Dickey Rural Network of Ellendale and Dakota Central Telecom of Carrington had completed the largest fiber-to-the-home network in North America. Their 10,000-square-mile build-out of fiber optic cable to every home, school, hospital and small business is the standard the rest of our nation's communities aspire to today.

The Forum's article just nine months later, "Saving North Dakota, 10 years later: It's a good place to live" published Dec. 31 specifically cited the investment of rural telecom companies and the robust online opportunities available because of it. Your article in 2014, "Report: ND leads nation in fiber optic access" published Dec. 29 quotes a U.S. Department of Agriculture study. NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association cites North Dakota in two separate categories. First, having 12 "Certified Gig-Capable Providers" and; second, says "North Dakota has the largest number of exchanges (125) served by Gig-Capable Providers" in the United States.

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Midco is a wonderful company and a tough competitor, but to imply that they are bringing gig technology to North Dakotans for the first time would be wrong. Arthur Companies, owned by the Burgum family, in Arthur, N.D., is widely acknowledged to be the first to have gigabit service in the state in 2014.

It would be similarly incorrect to imply that Gov. Burgum's 2013 "challenge" to develop the fastest Internet in the nation has had any bearing on locally-owned industry's investment in the 96 percent of North Dakota's geographic territory they serve. The telecom cooperatives were already doing it and will continue to meet the evolving needs of their members and subscribers in the future.

Crothers is the executive vice president of the North Dakota Association of Telecommunications Cooperatives.

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