by Vernon Brown, Vice President of Marketing & Community Relations
In our contagious environment, work becomes personal.
With user-friendly video technology, we see our coworkers' spouses, children and pets in meetings. We now know those photobombers' names, schedules and a bit of their personalities. In the pre-coronavirus world, the interruptions would have been considered unprofessional. Today they're endearing.
Even at SDN Communications, a business-to-business broadband service provider that readily embraces technology change, employees have become adept at Microsoft Teams video. Employees show more personality and share more personal stories. After all, they're inviting colleagues into their homes and some of their previously most private spaces – kitchen tables, garages, bedrooms or wherever else they find a mostly quiet environment.
SDN has gamified it a bit with different themes that get posted on its Facebook page. It's engaged employees and customers alike.
SDN Communications is pleased to be the conduit for much of that virtual water cooler chatter across the region.
It keeps workers closer in these days of social distancing and brings them together in ways unimaginable not that long ago. SDN has seen its customers boost bandwidth and security measures to make it all possible.
Not to diminish the value of those video conversations, but the traffic on SDN's network in these trying times expands to even more daily and critical services. People might be surprised how much of their daily data travels SDN's network.
Cell phones – The vast majority of wireless phone calls made in South Dakota and southern Minnesota travel a good portion of their journey on fiber owned/operated by SDN.
Health care – Many virtual appointments for physical or mental health connect via SDN.
Education – Whether K-12 or higher education, remote learning for students happens on SDN's network.
Banking – Online banking dominated our financial lives before coronavirus but has only increased as people pay bills and transfer funds with a mouse click.
Emergency Communications – SDN plays a critical role in making 911 and emergency services' state radio work.
SDN's network was built for times like these. It has taken great care to build a reliable network – what the company calls UPTIME.
• Diverse fiber rings re-route data in the event of a cut.
• 1,000+ employees across the region to care for the 50,000-mile fiber network, thanks to its member companies and partner companies spread across South Dakota and southern Minnesota.
• Strategic network planning to assure capacity well into the future.
Even though consumers don’t buy services directly from SDN, they’ve unknowingly come to rely on the company like a utility. Water, electricity, broadband – everyone just expects it to be there when they need it. SDN understands that and practices disasters to make sure its team is ready for times like this. Last fall employees and SDN’s member companies from across the state practiced what, at the time, seemed like a far-fetched pandemic scenario. There’s no doubt the companies were more prepared for coronavirus as a result of that exercise.
It's taken decades of infrastructure investment to create this network. Seventeen rural South Dakota broadband companies own SDN and interconnect to create that fiber network covering 76% of the state's geography. If not for the aggressive, fiber-building approach of SDN and its members' partnerships with governors like Bill Janklow, who insisted on connecting the schools two decades ago, children today might not be able to link with teachers via the internet. Sen. Mike Rounds, when he served as governor, initiated the Research Education Economic Development (REED) network connecting research and higher education institutions on a high capacity network built and delivered by SDN. Throughout it all, the companies that own SDN have built fiber to most homes, farms, ranches and businesses in their coverage areas. In fact, their territories will be 100% fiber to the premise within a couple years, giving rural residents necessary access to the online world. It's an extensive network, but it's nowhere near complete.
Gov. Kristi Noem in her first year recognized the work that still needs to be done in connecting some of the hardest and most expensive places to reach - areas beyond the defined service areas of SDN's members. She convinced the legislature to invest $5 million in connecting 6,500 homes and 150 businesses. Lawmakers recently passed a second round of $5 million for 2020 construction. Unfortunately, the current economic climate might change that priority.
When we beat this virus and recover our economy, we hope our industry can again partner with the state to connect all South Dakotans for health, safety and entertainment. The virus proved we need it.