West Central Telephone Awarded Broadband Grant

Plans underway to expand broadband service

West Central Telephone Association (WCTA) was awarded a grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. WCTA was awarded $718,850 for a project that will expand their fiber optic infrastructure into portions of Otter Tail and Wadena Counties. The total amount of grants awarded was $34 million to 42 broadband projects across Greater Minnesota.

Wednesday, January 11th, Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith announced that WCTA was among the recipients awarded funds from the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure grant program. WCTA applied for the grant to further expand their fiber optic infrastructure into adjacent rural areas including portions of Bluffton and Blowers Townships in Otter Tail County and also in Wadena County covering portions of Rockwood, Leaf River, North Germany and Wing River Townships, including the community of Bluegrass. Once complete, WCTA will provide gigabit broadband services to residents, businesses and anchor institutions that are currently unserved.

This funding partnership between WCTA and the State of Minnesota will bring fiber into these unserved areas up to 1,000 Mbps (1 Gigabit) surpassing the 2026 state speed goal of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload. The project will bridge the digital divide for government, businesses, residents and students in the area.

Chad Bullock, the CEO of WCTA said, “We are pleased to be named as one of the grant recipients. Our neighbors in these rural areas of Wadena and Otter Tail Counties have had no options for reliable Internet service.  When surveyed, some stated that they didn’t even have basic telephone service.  This grant provides forty-nine percent of our $1.5 million project; we're committed to a $778,755 local match to make gigabit broadband a reality.” 

This project is the second phase of a much larger fiber project as it builds off of last year’s Border to Border grant area. WCTA submitted the grant application in partnership with the National Joint Powers Alliance, the West Central Economic Development Alliance and Region Five Development Commission. They also had extensive community support from local public and private sector organizations and businesses, and local citizens.

Construction could begin as early as spring of 2017, although the specific details have not been finalized.

Scholarship Opportunities

scholarshipsAs an investment in our youth, we’re committed to the future of rural Minnesota. We’re pleased to announce the following scholarship opportunities and invite all high school seniors to apply.


FRS College Scholarship Program

The FRS College Scholarship Program awards thirty scholarships in the amount of $2,000 each to winning applicants across the nation, with a $500 match by the sponsoring telco (for a total of $2,500 each).  FRS Scholarship applications are due in the WCTA office by February 17.
 
Students may also be eligible for four Staurulakis Family Scholarships valued at $5,000 each or two TMS Scholarships for $1,500 each. Students who are majoring in math, science, engineering, or medicine are given preference for the Staurulakis Family Scholarships. One $7,000 Everett Kneece Return to Rural America Scholarship will also be awarded this year.
 
For applications and guidelines, see your high school guidance counselor or download the application from the FRS Website at http://www.frs.org.

Deadline: February 17, 2017


Minnesota Telecom Alliance Foundation Scholarships

The Minnesota Telecom Alliance Foundation is offering five $2,000 scholarships to high school seniors who graduate in 2017. Scholarships are awarded after the student demonstrates successful completion of the first year of college or technical school. The application deadline is February 24. Applications must be returned to WCTA for signature.

MTA Scholarship applications can be downloaded from the Minnesota Telecom Alliance website ( mnta.org ).

Deadline: February 24, 2017


WCTA’s Scholarship Program

High school seniors can also apply for one of eight scholarships in the amount of $1,000 each.  The deadline for the WCTA Scholarship applications is April 7.  
 
Our scholarship program has been established to encourage youth in our area to further their education after graduating from high school and is made possible through unclaimed capital credit checks. Because of our cooperative status, we are able to use these funds to benefit the scholarship program.

Download the WCTA Scholarship application here.

Deadline: April 7, 2017


WCTA's 2nd Year or Beyond Scholarship

Current college students are urged to apply for a $1,000 scholarship through the 2nd Year or Beyond Scholarship.  Students who graduated from high school and are from any one of the five telephone exchanges of WCTA currently attending 2nd year or beyond higher education are eligible.  Past scholarship winners are also eligible. The deadline on the 2nd Year or Beyond Scholarship application is June 1.

Remember, the FRS scholarship must be in our office by February 17, the MTA scholarship must be in our office by February 24, the WCTA scholarship must be in our office by April 7 and the WCTA 2nd Year or Beyond scholarship must be in our office by June 1. Links to all scholarships are found on www.wcta.net under the Scholarships tab. Please call Geri Salmela at 837-5151 or email your questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Download the WCTA Second Year or Beyond Scholarship application here.

Deadline: June 1, 2017


Please direct scholarship questions to Geri Salmela at 837-5151 or email your questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Nominations & Election Committee Meet March 8

West Central Telephone’s Nominations & Election committee are meeting March 8 at 6 pm to appoint official candidates who wish to serve on the board of directors. If you are interested in serving on the cooperative’s board, you should contact a committee member before the meeting. Members include Pat Pederson, Kay Oehlenschlager, Pam Johnson, Karen Kocurek, David Anderson, Jim Runyan and Harvey Aho. This year, the committee will choose candidates for the Menahga and Nimrod exchanges, currently held by Dave Kriens and Dave Pulju, respectively. Although expected, protocol requires that Kriens and Pulju be contacted by the committee prior to the meeting to confirm their decision to seek re-election.

The cooperative will hold its election at the 66th Annual Meeting that will be held May 9, 2016. A spokesperson for West Central Telephone stated that if a person is interested in becoming a board member, they should review the Bylaws found in the 2016 Telephone directory. You may also call the office at 218-837-5151 or 1-800-945-2163 for more information or if you have questions about the election process.

West Central Telephone Association is a full service telecom cooperative transforming rural communications with advanced fiber-to-the-premise technologies.   Services to members include telephone, local and long distance, broadband Internet, TV, security and surveillance, personal emergency response systems, and smart home automation.

Blandin Foundation grant supports Wadena technology expo

A $10,000 Broadband Innovation Grant from the Blandin Foundation will help connect Minnesota State Community and Technical College students and residents of west central Minnesota with the latest in technology innovations.

The grant, part of the Blandin Foundation’s Community Broadband Program, will support the planned What the Tech Expo, with area business and industry invited to display and demonstrate technology on M State’s Wadena Campus.

The expo, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, April 8, is a collaboration with local businesses and area health organizations, along with broadband and energy service providers. Grant funding will allow students in M State’s Network Administration and Security program to build and support a network connecting a variety of Internet-enabled devices and introduce the community to technologies that can improve their lives.

“Attendees will have the opportunity to talk with experts and gain hands-on experience in how technology can be used to help improve their daily lives, making them more likely to adopt the technologies,” said Janet Johnson, an instructor in M State’s Network Administration and Security program.

She anticipates that the expo also may spark interest in information technology careers.

“Rural Minnesota has struggled with finding sufficient employees in the IT industry,” Johnson said. ”This event and equipment will help not only promote use of the latest technologies, but also promote IT careers and provide the latest equipment to a program that is helping address this workforce shortage.”

“The expo includes ‘how to’ and ‘what not to do’ training on technologies designed to improve health, home and business,” according to the Blandin grant application submitted by the Wadena Area College Foundation.

The foundation and college are partnering in the project with West Central Telephone Association.

The expo targets residents of Wadena, Todd, Morrison, Cass and Crow Wing counties and also is open to students at area high schools and Central Lakes College in Brainerd. Lunch will be provided.

The Blandin Community Broadband Innovation Grant Program provides matching funds to eligible applicants in rural Minnesota communities for projects that promote access, adoption and use of broadband technologies. The Blandin Foundation, based in Grand Rapids, is engaged in a range of programs designed to help strengthen rural Minnesota communities.

Anyone interesting in exhibiting at the What the Tech Expo can contact Johnson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 218.631.7855.

As a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, M State serves more than 8,000 students in credit courses each year in more than 70 career and liberal arts programs at its four campuses in Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Moorhead and Wadena, and through eCampus. By partnering with communities, the college also provides custom training services and other responsive training programs.

Minnesota State Community and Technical College is a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System and is an equal opportunity educator / employer. Upon request, this information is available in alternative formats.

WCTA Awarded Broadband Grant

Center, Lt. Governor Smith pictured with representatives of Greater Minnesota companies awarded grants; far left, Chad Bullock, CEO/GM and Geri Salmela, Marketing Director of WCTACenter, Lt. Governor Smith pictured with representatives of Greater Minnesota companies awarded grants;
far left, Chad Bullock, CEO/GM and Geri Salmela, Marketing Director of WCTA

West Central Telephone Association (WCTA) was awarded a grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. WCTA was awarded $189,525 for a project that will expand their fiber optic infrastructure along the Hwy 71 North corridor. The total amount of grants awarded was just under $11 million to 15 entities investing in unserved or underserved regions.  

Friday, November 20th at the Blandin Foundation’s 12th annual statewide broadband conference, Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith announced that WCTA was among the recipients awarded funds from the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure grant program. WCTA applied for the grant to expand their fiber optic infrastructure into adjacent rural areas along the Highway 71 corridor north of Wadena. Once complete, WCTA will provide gigabit broadband services to residents, businesses and anchor institutions that are currently considered unserved or underserved.

The state defines an unserved area as an area of Minnesota in which households or businesses lack access to wire-line broadband service at speeds that meet the FCC threshold of 25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload. An underserved area is an area of Minnesota in which households or businesses do receive service above the FCC threshold but lack access to wire-line broadband service at speeds that meet the state broadband goals of ten to 20 megabits per second download and five to ten megabits per second upload.

Chad Bullock, the CEO of WCTA said, “We are pleased to be named as one of the grant recipients. Our neighbors in rural Wadena have asked WCTA to bring broadband services to them. This grant will offset our project costs enough to make gigabit broadband in rural Wadena a reality.”

The project was designed to provide a robust fiber backbone that can accommodate a much larger project area over time. WCTA submitted the grant application in partnership with the National Joint Powers Alliance, the West Central Economic Development Alliance and Region Five Development Commission. They also had extensive community support from local public and private sector organizations and businesses, and local citizens.

Construction could begin as early as spring of 2016, although the specific details have not been finalized.

WCTA Receives Invite to D.C. Event

dc-pam-tony

WCTA’s Pam Mahling & Tony Mayer
in Washington, D.C.

 

dc-tony-telco

WCTA’s Tony Mayer along with others in the Telco industry share their views and opinions with FCC policy makers in D.C.

Representatives from West Central Telephone Association were in Washington, D.C., last week for two events highlighting the work of community-based broadband providers, including one event that brought members to within steps of the Oval Office. 

Dozens of NTCA members were invited to the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building on October 28 for an event hosted by the White House Rural Council and focused on the association’s Smart Rural Community initiative. 

Smart Rural Community award winners spoke during the event about the innovations their companies have been able to offer their communities through the deployment of high-speed broadband. Joining NTCA at the event were officials from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service and the FCC. 

WCTA General Manager Tony Mayer said of the event, “We appreciated the opportunity to share our stories and concerns about the future of rural broadband with key policy makers in DC. People in our communities might not be aware but as a Smart Rural Community, we’re being held up as a shining example of what can be done using WCTA’s robust fiber broadband to improve education, economic development, healthcare and agriculture in our rural area. We were proud to represent our community at this event.”

“Members of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association are proven solutions providers when it comes to broadband services for the communities where they live and work,” NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield said in a news release. “We are appreciative for this opportunity to engage members of the administration who are also dedicated to improving education, health care, agriculture and public safety in rural America through broadband deployment.” 

“Expanding telecommunications is a central component of this administration's comprehensive effort to build jobs and economic security in rural America,” said Doug McKalip, senior policy adviser for rural affairs for the White House Domestic Policy Council. 

NTCA also held its first Telecom Executive Policy Summit (TEPS), with more than 100 association members fanning out for dozens of meetings on Capitol Hill. During the two-day summit, members discussed issues critical to rural telecom providers with industry leaders, advocates and policymakers, including FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who shared ideas and provided an outlook on U.S. communications policy in the coming years. 

“In the face of change and challenge, some may be tempted to throw up their hands. But I think it is critical to move forward with our reforms,” O’Rielly told summit participants. “That doesn't mean that I've come here today with a magic solution or the answers to all of your questions. I recognize that every major reform that has worked has succeeded in part because you all [NTCA members] helped shape it.” 

Maureen Ohlhausen, a commissioner for the Federal Trade Commission, also gave an overview of her agency’s top priorities, including providing greater access to telemedicine services for rural patients.

Phishing

When internet fraudsters impersonate a business to trick you into giving out your personal information, it’s called phishing. Don't reply to email, text, or pop-up messages that ask for your personal or financial information. Don’t click on links within them either – even if the message seems to be from an organization you trust. It isn’t. Legitimate businesses don’t ask you to send sensitive information through insecure channels. Test your Phishing knowledge by taking this quiz.

Continue Reading

WCTA Receives National Recognition as Smart Rural Community

Recently, the west central area including the communities of Sebeka, Menahga, Verndale, Aldrich, Nimrod and Wolf Lake received national recognition as one of seven Smart Rural Communities. West Central Telephone (WCTA) submitted an application packet for the Paradigm Award that highlighted how the communities in their service area have been working for nearly two decades to build a robust fiber to the home broadband network to be used as a foundation for community development strategies.

While the team at WCTA is proud to have served a leading role in this effort upgrading all of their copper lines to fiber optics, they give credit to their members from the communities they serve who are ultimately responsible for the progress. WCTA CEO/General Manager Tony Mayer stated “Our members could have lobbied for lower rates or higher capital credit checks, but instead have fully supported the more expensive path of investing in our fiber infrastructure. They have joined the committees and supported the many projects that were required to transform our rural area into the “smart” community we are today!”

Letters from both the Menahga and Sebeka schools were included in the application packet outlining the innovative ways they’ve benefitted from the fiber optic infrastructure WCTA built. Take for instance the Menahga School’s wish to be “connected.” WCTA provided the technology to connect the school district with a 10 Gigabit Network Backbone which eliminated the existing bottleneck they had with their infrastructure, while also providing bandwidth with a wireless upgrade. They have virtual field trips, connections with any university or high school classroom expanding their educational options, and engaging online programs that allow them to individualize their instruction. The Sebeka School District, with identical technologies, added that the use of flipped classroom activities and online college courses that benefit many students would not be possible without the availability of high speed internet in school and at home.

Many leaders in these communities have partnered with WCTA, pushing educational efforts to get people using applications that broadband supports. Maxine Norman, of the Minnesota Extension Office spearheaded the “Connecting Rural Communities” project; Suzanne Heinrichs via Blandin Foundation’s “Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities” taught community education classes on broadband use; city governments have realized the need for Wi-Fi hotspots and have installed them in various public places; and Mark Hanson of West Central Economic Development Alliance has worked hard to promote broadband in our area to attract new businesses and support existing businesses.

Being designated as one of seven of the first trailblazing “Smart Rural Community” award winners is exciting, but it’s also a testimony to WCTA’s dedication for a fully connected broadband region working towards a prosperous future. WCTA received the Paradigm Award because of reliable communications, commitment and a great partnership with community members, and they hope that their broadband backbone continues to be the leverage that the region needs to create innovative economic development and growth.

Phishing Alert

There is an email floating around to wcta.net customers addressed to Dear wcta.net subscriber.

THIS EMAIL IS NOT FROM WCTA, DO NOT RESPOND.

The following is the email in its entirety:
-----------------------------------------------------

Dear wcta.net subscriber,

We are currently engaged in account maintenance service.
As a subscriber, you are required to confirm your continued membership.
Failure to confirm your continued membership will lead to service suspension.
Click here to Login and confirm in one simple step.
This is to improve our service quality. We are sorry for inconveniences

NOTE: You are required to update your account within 24-hour

Thank you.
©Webmaster Unit [West Central Telephone Association]

Rural Broadband: Essential to Prosperity. Vital to America

High-speed broadband Internet access has become today’s essential service, but new government rules being proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could impact your access to broadband Internet service.  You can help by lending your voice to the debate.

At the onset of telephone service back in the 1950s, the federal government created a universal service policy to ensure that all Americans—including those in rural areas—have access to affordable communications services.  The government decided these were essential services that required financial support to build and maintain.  As a result, it created something called the Universal Service Fund (USF).

Like many rural companies, WCTA has been the recipient of USF and invested millions of dollars over the years to build advanced networks to meet the needs of customers.  We’ve done this with the understanding that the government would continue to support our efforts through USF.  Without receiving support from the federal government, it would be impossible for us to maintain our existing infrastructure as well as expand our capabilities to meet our customer needs in the future.  As with our national highway system, the information highway costs money to sustain. 

Federal support has made it possible for our company to deliver the network that spurs economic opportunity, supports educational options and increases our ability to attract new businesses to our area.  Now the government is thinking about changing the fund. But if this federal support gets cut, our town and outlying areas could get stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide. 

The FCC wants to do away with USF and other financing methods that support rural, high-cost telephone and broadband services.  It wants to create something called the Connect America Fund.  While this is a good idea to help facilitate the transition to support for increased broadband services in rural communities, FCC officials need to ensure that they don’t destroy the funding that now delivers telecommunications services to the rural areas of America.

All rural consumers need to get educated about the proposed policies and communicate to members of Congress and the White House about the negative impact this could have on our community.  The current FCC proposal would penalize rural broadband providers such as our company, and put existing affordable, high-quality broadband service for rural areas in serious jeopardy.  Also, it would undermine our ability to upgrade that service in the future. 

The current USF structure has been a great success story for our country.  It has enabled our country to stay connected.  It has allowed our company to deliver on the promise of affordable, advanced communications services for rural consumers and business.  But the job isn’t done. 

As consumers, you can make a difference in this debate.  Your contact with policy-makers will ensure that the FCC makes the right changes to USF so that rural communities remain connected to the global world and may reap the rewards of an accessible, affordable and sustainable broadband network.

To support this effort, send a letter to your members of congress and the White House by visiting www.saveruralbroadband.org.



Wind/Solar Remote Power Kit Ready for Market

Project Nominated by Xcel Energy for National SLICE Award

After more than two years of intensive research, system tinkering, and number crunching, Zenergy by West Central Telephone Association (WCTA) has completed development of a small wind and solar power kit for remote telecom equipment. The kit can also be used for other remote power needs such as farms and cabins. The research was funded by a $137,000 grant from the Xcel Renewable Development Fund (RDF)*, and a final presentation of the research project was made to the RDF Advisory Board in May, 2010.

The RDF grant administrators were was so impressed by the project that they have nominated Zenergy by WCTA for the national State Leadership in Clean Energy (SLICE) award. The award is given to recognize state programs that are most effectively accelerating adoption of clean energy technologies and advancing clean energy markets.

For the research project, the Zenergy team installed five test systems at West Central Telephone’s remote switching nodes and collected data over several months to determine the technical and financial feasibility of using the kits to power the telecommunications equipment. They also experimented with different settings and system configurations to find the most efficient combinations for various applications.

The kits have been developed to provide backup power to the nodes for three days in a worst-case scenario of having absolutely no sun or wind resources, and indefinitely when green power is available. Each kit produces 2,245 kWh annually on average, offsetting 4,500 pounds of carbon dioxide, seven pounds of sulfur dioxide, and over one-half gram of mercury. (One gram of mercury is enough to contaminate a small lake.) Each kit will also offset the use of over 30,000 gallons of fresh water per year used to produce electricity.

The payback periods for the five different setups were based on the grants and rebates available at the time of the research, and were found to range from 10 to 15 years, using a modest estimate of 5 percent electric rate increases, and not including the potential financial gains from advertising, and renewable energy and/or carbon credits.

Market research performed as part of the study showed that in addition to the large potential of the telecom market, where reliable backup power is an inherent and vital cost of doing business, many other markets might benefit from the remote power kits, including ranches, cabins, weather stations, and even developing nations.

The project included designing a remote internet-based monitoring software solution, as well as a custom equipment cabinet, both of which are now commercially available through Zenergy (www.zenergyguide.com). The kits are expected to be available for mass-market by the end of 2010.

RDF grant administrator Mark Ritter said of the project, ““WCTA has exhibited leadership in the renewable energy field by going beyond the normal telecommunication business model and looking at new ways to add additional reliability and stability to their services. Their research is not only applicable to telecommunication but is also appropriate for other sectors that need remote power. Their project has been exemplary in demonstrating how rural cooperatives can bring innovative solutions to meet shareholders needs at affordable rates.”

* Project funding provided by customers of Xcel Energy through a grant from the Renewable Development Fund.

Phishing Scam Targets WCTA's Customers Again

Another Phishing email now titled "INFORMATION" has been reported. This email is not from WCTA, so please delete this message. This email was propagated by a spammer, and upon closer inspection originates from a Google email address.

Please keep in mind that WCTA will never ask you for your email address or password or any other sensitive information, nor will we ask you to download directly from an email, and the only links we ever email you are the ones we provide inside our monthly e-newsletter. If you receive a message from any company, whether it be WCTA, your bank, your electric company or anti-virus provider, etc., that asks you to click on a link, double click on a file, or submit personal information, your best bet is to delete the email and call the company directly, making sure that you use the phone number that appears on your statement and not the one provided in the email.

Moorhead to Test Solar Power

The City of Moorhead will install a demonstration solar project this summer. The system is expected to be built by the end of September.

From Moorhead Public Service:
After 11 years, Moorhead's wind turbines are going to get some company. In a joint venture between Moorhead Public Service (MPS) and the City of Moorhead, a solar photovoltaic (PV) demonstration project will be constructed this summer between Moorhead's existing wind turbines. The project will consist of three solar arrays that will track the sun and produce up to 10 kilowatts of electrical powerÑenough power to light up a small business or a few homes.

MPS' first renewable energy project, a wind turbine, went on-line in 1999. This solar PV demonstration project now marks an exciting new chapter in promoting renewable energy in Moorhead.. "The solar demonstration project is a continuation of Moorhead Public Service's commitment to renewable energy," said MPS' General Manager Bill Schwandt. "Moorhead was a leader when it began its wind turbine project over ten years ago and now Moorhead is a leader, again, in promoting renewable energy."

The project was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Minnesota Department of Commerce through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This grant will provide up to 40 percent of the total funding for this project, which is expected to cost a total of $99,500.

"This project will demonstrate how homeowners and businesses can engage in their own renewable energy projects," said MPS' Energy Services Manager Dennis Eisenbraun. "This project will also determine the viability of solar PV technology in Moorhead's weather extremes."

This solar demonstration project is scheduled to be fully operational by September 30, 2011. Project management will be performed by MPS' Energy Services Manager Dennis Eisenbraun and the City of Moorhead will act as the fiscal agent for the grant. The primary contractor is Zenergy based in Sebeka, Minnesota.

MPS is a community-owned utility serving the residents of Moorhead, Minnesota, with electricity and water.