Golden West: Providing A Century Of Service To South Dakotans During Global Pandemics
Wed, 06/03/2020 - 9:49am admin
Elizabeth “Liz” Meighen
For over a century, Golden West Telecommunications has provided communication services for the southwestern region of South Dakota. In 1916, Golden West installed the first local system with copper telephone lines strung along wooden posts from Quinn to Interior. The rudimentary copper line provided basic telephone service for these communities. In the Spring of 1918, the first cases of the Spanish Flu were reported within the United States. The pandemic raged globally for two years, resulting in an estimated 50 million fatalities worldwide. South Dakota reported a total of 3,000 deaths from the Spanish Flu, the number one cause of death during the pandemic. The telephone system installed by Golden West in 1916 provided a vital means of communication for families in these remote communities to contact a physician or healthcare facilities during the times that the pandemic affected South Dakotans. Approximately one hundred years later, Golden West continues to provide communication services for the region amidst another global pandemic—the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). A lot has changed in communications within the last one hundred years including the advent of telecommunications. One thing has not changed within the last century—the commitment by Golden West to provide superior telecommunication services during a time of great need.
Since its inception and through the end of the twentieth century, telephone communication services evolved from switchboard operator assisted telephone calls to automatic dial systems. In rural America, access to communications expanded and services evolved from party lines shared by neighbors to dedicated landline telephones for each household. The evolution of communications for the majority of the twentieth century focused upon expanding connectivity and the availability of voice telephone service to remote areas. In the early 1990’s, a new era of communications developed as transmission of data paved the way to a new industry—telecommunications.
Telecommunications presented a new era but copper, voice centric lines for transmission of data from one point to another presented many constraints with the primary being transmission speed, ultimately affecting data integrity. Until the advent of fiber optics, copper lines provided the mode for data transmission. Within the last 20 years, there has been a profound shift between voice based communications to data centric telecommunications. Fiber optics provide carriers with the means to transmit massive amounts of information or data at tremendous speeds over great distances. Golden West is in the process of updating from traditional copper lines to fiber optics in its Fiber to the Home 2020 project. At the present time, roughly sixty-five percent of the service provided by Golden West has been converted to fiber optics, allowing them to provide superior broadband service to the region. The onset of COVID-19 has slowed the progression of the project which tentatively plans to complete installation of the new system in 2020.
During the current pandemic, Golden West Chief Executive Officer, Denny Law, stressed the first goal of Golden West is ensure that residents have easy access to broadband telecommunications. Law proudly noted that Golden West is able to provide their customers with superior connectivity in its fiber optic system. In comparison with metropolitan and urban areas with dense populations that rely on copper, the rural fiber optic system installed by Golden West rates higher in performance and speed. Since the onset of COVID-19 in the nation, Golden West designated 50 Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) hotspots. The website for Golden West, http://www.goldenwest.com, provides a list of the Wi-Fi hotspots in addition to allowing Golden West customers access to account information. Law indicated Golden West “wants to ensure broadband is available to people in communitites based upon their needs.” Technicians determined the 50 Wi-Fi hotspots after reviewing usage and considering economic conditions in those specific areas. Law noted “Golden West is trying to meet an immediate need based upon what their new normal consists of.” In a time of self isolation and working from home, a new normal may consist of people utilizing telecommunications rather than face to face interactions. Telecommunications offers an alternative where the users may utilize video conferencing applications between individuals or groups or attend webinars in lieu of driving long distances to attend traditional seminars. In addition to providing Wi-Fi hotspots, Golden West has eliminated late fees and pledged not to disconnect services to customers if they are unable to pay their bill through the end of the month.
Law reported after reviewing data usage Golden West noted new trends since COVID-19 caused nationwide school closures and prompted many people to work from home. Prior to COVID-19, the peak times of usage were in the evenings from 6-8 p.m. when people return home from work and school. Law noted that usage has increased substantially during the day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with continued peaks in the evening. Golden West internet subscribers may notice 5GHz in their Wi-Fi settings which should not be confused with mobile wireless telephone networks offering “5G”, representing the fifth generation mobile network. 5GHz Wi-Fi represents the frequency band and offers higher-speeds over shorter distances. Law stated the mobile fifth generation service is not here “in substantial amounts yet. Golden West’s network is focused on state of the art fiber optic technology.
Much has changed the landscape in the last 100 years but the need to maintain open lines of reliable communication have not changed in the least and during this pandemic it shows a much greater need for telecommunications in rural regions. In a region where a trip in to “town” entailed bringing products to market, conducting business and returning home with goods for needed for the home, farm or ranch. The ability to conduct business by telecommunications in a rural region now offers a more efficient way to conduct business by eliminating travel time and costs associated with traveling to meetings, appointments or seminars.
The landscape of this region may have changed but the people who call it home maintain a great number of the values from those previous generations. Those generations endured wars, disease and death. During the Spanish Flu pandemic, Golden West provided an essential service to those previous generations. One century later, Golden West continues to assist members of the community by providing expanded services and working to improve communications in this new millennia.