Seven Decades of Doing the Impossible

  • Date: August 3, 2022
  • Author: DRN

How DRN has revolutionized technology while remaining true to our rural values.

By the mid-20th century, the vast majority of America’s cities already had access to telephone lines. They were connected to each other, and to the world–but the rest of America was left behind. The corporations said it was too expensive to build copper lines to these rural communities.

They said it could not be done.

In southeast North Dakota, a group of determined farmers disagreed. They knew that North Dakotans were tough, and that together, they could do what the national corporations would not. They built party lines to connect their friends and neighbors, and in 1950, Dickey Rural Telephone–now known as DRN–became the first cooperative in North Dakota to offer telephone service to rural households.

For more than 70 years, DRN has continued to do the impossible. In 2012, we became the first in our state to connect 100 percent of our service territory to fiber-optic internet. And as of 2021, we are among the first–not only in North Dakota, but in the entire nation–to offer revolutionary 10 Gigabit speeds.

So how has a small cooperative in southeast North Dakota been able to accomplish what much larger metropolitan companies could–and would–not? By putting our people first, and remaining true to the small-town values that built us.

“We're providing the connection that connects everybody to the world. Without it, we'd just be out here on the prairie and everybody would forget about us,” said CEO and General Manager Kent Schimke. “It's quite the opposite now.”

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Much has changed in the seven decades since those farmers brought telephone service to rural North Dakota, including the technology that we use to communicate. Sid Meidinger, a fifth-generation farmer and second-generation member of the DRN Board of Directors, remembers the day his family farm was connected to DRN internet.

“[The internet] was the best thing that ever happened to us in rural America. Once we got that in place, it was just like America grew,” Meidinger said. “We were connected to the whole world.”

Meidinger has a better understanding than most of the important role that the internet has played in rural America. As an independent grain farmer, he relies on the internet for everything from buying seed to monitoring the conditions of his grain bins.

“The heat sensing tapes in [our bins] tell us if the grain is getting out of condition, which can be a very disastrous thing if 60,000 bushels of grain go bad on you,” Meidinger said. “Now with the internet, I could be a thousand miles away and know that I have a problem, and send somebody there to look into the problem.”

Meidinger’s ties to DRN run deeper than the fiber-optic cable that connects him to the internet. His father, Stanley, served on DRN’s Board of Directors for 28 years. When his father passed away unexpectedly in 1992, Meidinger was elected to take his place on the Board–and he has been reelected every term since.

“When I came on the Board, it was just the internet. It's been quite an experience for me, to see the change in such a short time” Meidinger said. “I helped bring the internet to rural America, and I’m proud of it.”

As a cooperative, we know that our responsibility to our members goes beyond providing advanced internet, telephone, video, and managed IT services. At the end of the day, we care for people–not just technology. This is why we reinvest our profits in our community in the form of capital credits, and why we encourage our employees to sit on city councils and township boards and volunteer with local nonprofits.

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DRN has been on the leading edge of technology for more than seven decades. As we continue to expand our fiber footprint and enhance our technology, we will remain true to the small-town values–like resilience, self-reliance, and caring for our neighbors–that brought us together in 1950.

“What I like about a cooperative is that they're here. They invest in the people,” Meidinger said. “And the people of DRN are some of the best people I ever got to know.”

DRN is proud to empower rural North Dakota with advanced technologies and local customer service. To learn more about how DRN can support your home or business’s technology needs, visit our homepage