Connecting Rural Communities
I am extremely honored and humbled to have been selected as a Champion of Change. My employer, Venture Communications, and many other rural telecom companies like it, are serving rural customers throughout our country. I’m so proud to be part of a community of people that make it their priority to ensure that every American can be connected to the global economy for job opportunities, commerce, healthcare, education and a myriad of other benefits. As President Obama recently said, winning the future is about innovation. Venture Communications and other rural, community-based telecom companies are key innovators serving those who are unserved or underserved.
In our community, we are able to bring distance learning to students who would otherwise not have access to language classes. We connect rural health facilities to those in urban areas so that emergency medical assistance can be provided. We enable our residents to sell their cattle throughout the country through online auctions. These are real life experiences that make our work rewarding and ensure our community is able to thrive.
As the accounting and office manager for Venture Communications Cooperative, I have many responsibilities and opportunities to help and serve people. We are located in a very rural part of South Dakota where distance isn’t measured in how many houses must be passed to reach your neighbor down the street but, instead, how many miles will be passed. Venture Communications has approximately two subscribers for each square mile of service territory. This creates a number of challenges for both my company and the people who live in our rural area. The challenge for Venture is that it is very costly to provide high-quality telecommunications service to our rural subscribers. The challenge for the residents of rural South Dakota is that these services are needed to connect them to the rest of the world for commerce, education, healthcare and information needs.
Venture Communications acquired a small company in 2008, Western Telephone Company, which was previously privately owned. Western Telephone Company had about 1,000 telephone subscribers without broadband at the time and covered approximately 800 square miles. We looked at several options to be able to provide the broadband services that today’s customers both need and want to do business, meet educational requirements, and obtain information from and about the world around them. The difficulty was finding an option that met the customers’ needs and was also something that Venture could afford.
As we were evaluating the options available to us, it was announced that President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law on February 17, 2009. As a part of the ARRA legislation, funds were set aside to enable companies to provide broadband service to unserved and underserved areas. Venture Communications decided to apply for this funding to help with the fiber-to-the-premise build that we were evaluating for the Western Telephone service area. We were notified in July 2010 that Venture had been awarded a $2.6 million grant and a $2.6 million loan to be administered through USDA’s Rural Utilities Service. In addition, Venture would provide $1.75 million of its own private funds to support the ARRA investment.
We were able to “hit the ground running” and started construction in early 2011, after obtaining the necessary construction permits. Customers began receiving broadband services from the new fiber facilities in July 2011 and the construction project was essentially complete in October 2011. Being awarded the ARRA grant/loan has enabled these customers to receive broadband services as technologically advanced as anyone in an urban area where density allows for much lower construction costs per customer. The project resulted in 412 miles of fiber being placed in the ground during the summer of 2011 as well as 290 new broadband subscribers for Venture’s internet and video services. In addition, 575 subscribers received improved broadband service as a result of those services being provided over a fiber-based facility.
Receiving the ARRA grant and loan has been good for Venture Communications and, more importantly, great for the customers who can now connect to global opportunities. This funding has brought the customers in these three exchanges into the 21st century and opened their access to the world. We are proud to be a Champion of Change.
Janelle Jessen is the Accounting and Office Manager for Venture Communications Cooperative in Highmore, South Dakota.