Residents of what are still considered rural areas by most metro companies will not be left out in the cold in technological advances.
In fact, small independents that now offer a buffet of telecommunications services may just be coming to their own debutante ball.
"All of us have been installing fiber optic cable, but we haven't done a very good job of telling people," said Kevin Larson, Crosslake Communications general manager. He noted the independent communications industry provides services to rival larger competitors and any claims that out state Minnesota is not connected is unfounded.
"We have just as many, if not more, services than the big conglomerates that serve the metro areas," said Judy Rothenberger, Consolidated Telephone, Brainerd. "We are up to speed here."
Area phone companies have been preparing for the speed challenge by installing fiber optic cables to allow customer connections when they are demanded. It is all preparation for the increased speed just around the corner.
Services like caller identification, selective call rejection, automatic redial along with voice mail are coming to individual households, Larson said.
Rothenberger said technology is communications. And she expects to see more online retail, more online banking and even smart houses where interior lights can be activated as residents approach their homes.
"All of those things we are going to see in the next few years," Rothenberger said.
Higher speed from Integrated Services Digital Network, or ISDN, enhanced digital service lines is also becoming more and more a part of the communication term glossary. Larson said the industry is currently researching DSL. The new technology offers increased bandwidth to send more data and higher Internet speeds for both business and residential needs.
In order to compete, small companies have had to offer more.
"As the competition is hitting, it is making us all better -- even the small independent. We realize we have to provide just as many or more services," Larson said. "We still maintain the local identity."
Crosslake worked with consultants to come up with a five-year plan to upgrade communications. Now the city is working with consultants to come up with a three-year rebuilding plan for the city's cable TV.
A challenge for rural telecommunications comes from maintaining reimbursement rates for use of local loops by bigger long distance companies. Some companies are urging free access. Federal bodies have regulated the universal service fund, which Larson said is used to keep communications rates affordable in out state areas. Crosslake Communications currently serves about 2,800 telephone access lines, which is an increase from 1,695 in 1991. The city also has about 2,400 cable TV customers during prime season.
A plus for consumers it the competitive pricing now that boundaries are disappearing for local, long distance and Internet service providers. Two or three years ago, Larson said Crosslake Communications did not offer long distance or voice mail. Now services continue to expand from phone purchases to prepaid calling cards. Another advantage for Crosslake residents comes from having one bill for cable, phone and Internet.
One of the overall expected advantages in the increased technology, often termed e-commerce or e-commuting, comes from an ability to offer more choices for wages and jobs in the lakes region where young people may have been forced to metro areas in the past.
"As the industry has become more competitive, it will keep not only Crosslake but rural Minnesota connected to the rest of the world," Larson said. "This technology will enhance our rural schools, clinics, libraries. You are talking rural health care, education. It will just benefit us all in that way."
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