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.