Much has changed since the Dakota Central Rural Telephone Cooperative was formed nearly 70 years ago to provide telephone service to farms in central North Dakota.

Even in the 1950s, many farmers in the area were without telephone service.

“And those who did, had service provided by wire nailed to fence posts that permitted contacting a neighbor or the operator in town,” remembers Albert Deeds, one of Dakota Central’s original board members.

Early telephone calls came over multiparty lines with as many as eight to 10 customers connected to a single line. Each party’s call was recognized by a different ring. The number of homes connected to a single line was later reduced to four, and in 1972 single-line service was introduced.

The services provided by today’s Dakota Central Telecommunications (DCT) were beyond imagination in the 1960s when multiparty telephone service was still perceived by many as a reliable, modern method of communication for those living in the area.

Today, DCT serves 8,500 customers in 18 communities and many enjoy high-speed Internet connections, digital television, and digital telephone service provided by fiber-optic cable directly to their homes and businesses.

The evolution from the new cooperative’s first services to the digital age occurred in stages, and DCT has been an innovative pioneer throughout its history, and made the decision to convert its outside plant from aerial to underground in 1971.

Although its overhead system was providing good service, a bad ice storm could knock out service to hundreds of customers and require costly repairs under extremely cold and difficult conditions. Because underground plant would eliminate most weather-related outages, it was determined to be the most economical approach to system upgrades.

Through the years, DCT added and improved services needed by its customers, including satellite television, wireless telephone, long distance, dial-up Internet service, and now a state-of-the art fiber network that brings high-speed fiber connections directly to homes and businesses and digital television.

DCT entered the fiber age in 1990 when offices and remotes were linked by fiber-optic. Today DCT is completely digital with the host switch at Windsor and all seven remotes, and the headquarters office connected by fiber.

At the beginning of the new century, DCT opened an office in Jamestown and installed a new underground fiber-optic system throughout the city, becoming the first company in North Dakota to bring FTTH (fiber-to-the-home) to its customers.

“At that time, DCT did not even serve Jamestown,” says Paul Berg, chief plant officer. “We decided to compete against incumbent telephone and cable television providers. We believed that fiber gave DCT the opportunity to really differentiate our service compared to what incumbent providers could offer.”

Following this success, DCT immediately began planning expansion of its FTTH network. By midyear 2008, construction on the first rural exchange in Carrington was complete and added to the fiber network.

DCT’s fiber network is 100 percent underground.

“There are many benefits to an all-underground system,” said Berg. “Cable is storm and wind proof, and neighborhoods are much more pleasing to the eye without poles suspending cables.”

Construction of the network has been done by contractors to specifications provided by DCT and under supervision of DCT personnel.

A variety of underground construction methods have been employed, including excavation performed primarily by backhoes, vibratory plowing, static plowing, horizontal directional drilling, and compaction boring with pneumatic piercing tools.

Surface and subsurface conditions determine which method of construction is used. HDD usually is the choice in areas where there are paved surfaces to cross.

A variety of Ditch Witch equipment is being used on the fiber project, including a JT2720 horizontal directional drill, HT100 vibratory plow, 8020 Turbo combination trencher and vibratory plow with backhoe attachment, 350sx vibratory plow, and 2310 and 3700 trenchers.

Berg said DCT currently is evaluating the possibility of initiating additional rural FTTH projects and has applied for a $24.7 million Rural Utilities Services (RUS) loan to finance additional fiber construction and building another wireless network.

Jeri Brieggi is public relations manager for Ditch Witch, based in Perry, Okla.

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