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Rural telecomm services reaching urban levels.

The company president was speaking: "Joe, we have an opportunity to pick up a large facility for a very good price in a rural area of Minnesota. If we buy it, I'd like to turn it into a regional service center, but I wonder about the telecommunications services there. You're the telecomm expert. What do you think?"

"Mr. Smith," the telecomm manager replied, "telecommunications have always been a problem in rural areas. Those locations are usually served by small, independent telephone companies and up-to-date services are frequently unavailable or require a substantial installation investment. My advice is to locate this service center in a more urban area served by larger carriers."

Sound familiar?

If it does, you need to rethink your response to senior management before they catch on to your limited viewpoint and adverseness to any risk-taking.

Newspaper columns are being written, books published and conferences held pointing out the trend for corprations to move to and expand in rural areas. The reasons are avoiding urban blight, crime, congestion, crumbling infrastructures and, not surprisingly in telecommunications, cable custs and switching office malfunctions prevalent in those areas.

Siting new plants or service centers involves much more than telecommunications, but telecomm has progressed from far down the list on most location sheets to one of the most significant factors in today's communications intensive environment.

There's an old joke that New Yorkers don't believe significant life exists west of the Hudson River. Few people are that provincial today, but the perception that "rural" is bumpking and "urban" sophisticated persists in numerous outlooks and mentalities. Don't fall into that trap in your telecomm work.

It's been my experience that today in most rural areas in this country telecomm services are available at less cost than urban areas and services are equal--or can be made equal--by working closely with the local exchange company or other service providers in those areas.

An outstanding example is the expansion of cellular service in Minnesota. Minnesota was divided into 11 Rural Service Areas (RSAs) when the Federal Communications Commission made those assignments at the inception of cellular service. Sixty-eight telephone companies in Minnesota formed 10 partnerships and instituted a service named Cellular 2000 which currently provides service to 10 of those 11 rural RSAs. Their subscribers can travel almost anywhere in Minnesota and use their Cellular 2000 service without interruption or compatibility problems. The only exceptions are several metropolitan areas where metro-area cellular companies are located and inter-company, inter-cellular arrangements have not as yet been completed with those companies.

The coverage, technology and customer service of Cellular 2000 would not have been possible individually. It offers an impressive array of options to enhance the value of a cellular phone including voice mail, call waiting, call forwarding and three-way calling. Rates are as low as $ 21.95 per month access charge and 26 [cents] per minute airtime charge in off-peak hours.

The president of Rural Cellular Corporation (five of the 10 partnerships providing Cellular 2000 service) is Richard Ekstrand. According to Ekstrand, Cellular 2000 subscribers can travel almost any highway in Minnesota and receive high-quality, uninterrupted cellular service.

He added, "Cellular 2000 will serve population centers which historically have had limited, if any, alternative telephone services."

Another example of innovative rural services in Minnesota is the Minnesota Equal Access Network Services Inc. (MEANS). MEANS was created in 1988 by 10 independent telephone companies to provide a centralized long-distance service. Today they represent 64 companies with approximately 200,000 subscribers.

They received approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in 1990 to operate a telecommunications network that would provide equal access to much of greater (rural) Minnesota. Conversion, on a location by location basis throughout the state, is forecast for the first and second quarters of 1992.

This centralized equal access service will bring long-distance competition to rural Minnesota and open the door for additional new services that previously have been available only to metropolitan area subscribers. The MEANS network will utilize a DMS 100/200 digital switch and employ state-of-the-art technology like fiber-optic cable and Sonet (Synchronous Optical Network).

Cellular 2000 and MEANS are magnificent examples of the services that can be provided by innovative, risk-taking entrepreneurs freed of some of the constraints that previously existed in telecommunications. Cellular is just one of these new services.

The telecomm manager who takes the lead in acquainting his or her senior management with rural prospects and opportunities will be the vice president of information services--or higher--before this decade is over.

Augie Blegen is a telecommunications consultant and executive director of the Association of Data Communications Users Inc., P.O. Box 385728, Bloomington, MN 55438, 612-881-6803.
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Title Annotation:Datacomm User
Author:Blegen, August
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Words:774
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