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NCC, SRT receive USDA telecommunications loans

Steve Lysne, Souris River Telephone general manager Mike Steffan, NCC, general manager
Steve Lysne, SRT (courtesy photo)
Mike Steffan, NCC (courtesy photo)

From staff reports

Earlier this summer – during KX/Co-op Day at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot – the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development agency announced two loans to help local cooperatives expand and improve broadband service to customers.

Northwest Communications Cooperative (NCC), Ray, will receive a $40 million loan and SRT Communications, Minot, will receive a $15 million loan through USDA’s Telecommunications Infrastructure program.

“Being able to connect with people from anywhere in the world opens up a lot of economic and educational opportunities and provides numerous social benefits,” said Ryan Taylor, USDA Rural Development state director. “North Dakota has some of the most advanced, connected rural areas in the country. That only comes with commitment and capital – the commitment of cooperatives like SRT and NCC to provide gig-capable service, and their access to affordable capital from USDA Rural Development.”

Serving Williams, Divide, Burke and Mountrail counties, NCC will use the financing to build out its fiber optic network. Funds will also purchase and install new equipment. With the system improvements, 100 percent of NCC’s subscribers will be served by fiber, allowing for high-quality, reliable services. 

“We were excited to receive loan approval, which will allow us to complete fiber buildout to every location in our service area over the next four years,” said Mike Steffan, NCC general manager/CEO. “This will allow NCC to have the broadband network of the future in alignment with being the premier provider of communications services in northwest North Dakota.”

SRT will use the loan funds to upgrade the rural portions of three exchanges (Deering, Sawyer and Minot) from an aging copper system to a fiber-optic network.

“SRT continues to bring high-speed Internet and other leading communications services to our customers with the continued build out of our fiber optic network,” said Steve Lysne, SRT general manager/CEO.

Since 2009, the USDA Rural Utilities Service has invested more than $400 million in North Dakota broadband and telecommunication projects.

Survey points to broadband reach in rural America 

From NTCA reports

This summer, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association released its 15th annual broadband survey report. This report highlights commendable growth and success by the nation’s independent, community-based telecommunications companies and cooperatives in deploying and operating broadband-capable networks even in the face of significant marketplace and regulatory challenges.

One-hundred percent of the small telecommunications companies that responded to the 2015 survey offer broadband to some part of their customer base, compared with the 58 percent of the 2000 survey respondents. 

In the 2013 survey, 29 percent of respondents’ customers were served by fiber to the home (FTTH); in this year’s survey, almost half – 49 percent – have access to FTTH service. 

Throughout the history of the report, the top barrier to broadband availability has been the cost to deploy networks, and 91 percent of 2015 respondents cite that as a significant barrier to widespread deployment of fiber. Regulatory uncertainty was the second most-cited barrier (79 percent).

“Despite the challenges they face, rural telecommunications providers continue to look for and find ways to deliver the services their customers want and need. The availability of robust and reliable broadband service plays a vital role in supporting the ongoing viability of rural America” said NTCA Manager of Economic Research and Analysis Rick Schadelbauer.