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Kudos to companies that make technology work for rural life

Jenny Schlecht1 / 2
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When I left for college, it was with the knowledge that my parents were only a phone call away. I was going 410 miles from home, a ridiculous distance for someone who tends to be a homebody and could probably count on her fingers and toes the number of nights she had spent away from her family.

But there was email, and I had a cell phone, and keeping in touch was easily accomplished.

When I was pregnant with my first daughter, my parents and I tried video chatting for the first time. By the time Reanna could walk, she knew the voices and faces of her grandparents seven hours away as well as the ones who lived in the same town. Now my girls think nothing of grabbing my phone for a quick FaceTime with Grandpa and Grandma or other family members, all a time zone away.

Technology has been the reason I've been able to live the life I live. Without it, I may never have gone to North Dakota and doubt I'd have had the desire or the ability to stay so far from my family.

After my husband and I got married, we bought a little house in town. The houses on the farm were both occupied then, and we didn't want to throw another into the mix. Plus, I had an ulterior motive. I was, at that time, commuting an hour to work in Bismarck. And I needed a backup plan for the North Dakota winter.

The backup plan at my little house was high-speed internet from Dakota Central Telecommunications, through which I could do most of my work from home in a pinch.

At that time, not even a decade ago, the farm's only viable option of internet was dial up. Eventually, my in-laws used a hot spot device to get it a little faster, but it still didn't live up to what we had in town.

By the time we started fixing up a house at the farm so we could move in, Dakota Central had brought high-speed internet service all the way out to the farthest points of its service—and the farm is pretty much at the end of the line. So, we had no qualms about leaving town, and I had no qualms about taking a job working from home.

Dakota Central recently received a Smart Rural Community Showcase award from the NTCA — The Rural Broadband Association, which represents 850 independent, community-based telecommunications companies. The 13 companies recognized this year, which also include Red River Communications of Abercrombie, N.D., are considered examples of the association's initiative to highlight efforts that make rural communities vibrant places in which to live and do business.

Not so long ago, remote reporters had to mail in stories and photos, use Western Union or dictate stories over the phone. It would make what I do now difficult or impossible. As I sit in my home office, I can do pretty much everything I could do from the Agweek office in downtown Fargo. I write, edit and transmit stories and photos. I upload video. Our whole team can collaborate on stories in real time. I can chat with my coworkers. I can work on our website and our social media pages.

My community and other rural communities have many other people like me who can do things unthinkable even a decade ago from their homes and farms. That means more jobs and more people who can live where they want and continue following the career paths they chose.

Rural revitalization only can happen if the tools available to people who live in rural areas keep up with the tools available in bigger cities. So congratulations to Dakota Central Telecommunications and all the companies that work to make our rural areas great places to live and work in the modern age.