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Golden West celebrates 100 years and keeps looking ahead

Golden West - 100 Years in telecommunications

Golden West has been a significant factor in the telecommunications business in South Dakota for a 100 eventful years, and the Wall-based company keeps preparing for the future.

Golden West Telecommunications Cooperative got off to a modest but significant start in 1916 by being the first company to stretch phone lines across the lonely plains of western South Dakota. The lines were hung on fence posts, which divided farms and ranches but also helped bring people of the region together.

Today, telecommunications services typically are carried on buried fiber. Golden West is more than halfway through a major upgrade of its vast network, which extends across much of southern South Dakota. In its West River home turf, the cooperative’s service area extends from near Pine Ridge to Faith’s rural areas.

In all, the service area includes about 25,000 square miles of countryside, small towns and American Indian reservations. Coordinating work and services in such a large, thinly populated area can present challenges. Getting to personally know coworkers scattered across the state can be difficult, for example. But the vast area also provides the cooperative a strong foundation from which to keep building for the future.

Implementing changes to embrace new technology is almost a constant process. Presently, Golden West’s 64 exchanges are being upgraded with fiber to provide customers better and more reliable telecommunications services, including phone, TV and internet. The cooperative’s fiber-conversion project has been underway for several years and could take years longer to complete.

Denny Law, chief executive officer of Golden West, believes that broadband users everywhere are only in the early stages of taking advantage of the communications opportunities and benefits that improved connectivity can provide. Over the next 10 or 20 years, Golden West customers will experience the benefits of improved connectivity, he says.

“Broadband removes distance as a limitation. With a good broadband connection, you’re connected to anywhere in the world,” he says.

Golden West’s year-long celebration of its 100th anniversary included a tour of an informative and interactive exhibit, called “Fence Posts to Fiber Optics.” The exhibit, housed in a trailer, visited celebrations in about a dozen communities. Employees also grilled thousands of hot dogs.

Law attributes two primary factors to the cooperative’s longevity and continued vitality:

  • A strong and loyal base of customers, whose resiliency has carried the cooperative through challenging as well as good times.
  • Employees from Edgemont to Dell Rapids and communities in between who have worked hard and dedicated their careers to the cooperative.

Being able to adjust and thrive is a strong testimony to the customers and employees of the past 100 years, Law says.

“We didn’t go by the wayside when the latest technology product came along. We adopted and thrived. Technology will continue to change, but so will we,” he says.

Golden west became a cooperative in 1952. The company grew substantially during the 1960s and beyond with a series of acquisitions. But in recent years, the emphasis has been on improving technology and services available to customers.

“My expectation for our organization is to continue to offer services relevant to our customers’ lives,” Law says. “Certainly we’re in a broadband world now. The services that ride on that have the power to transform the rural economy in ways we can’t even imagine.”

Golden West is among 17 independent phone companies in South Dakota that own Sioux Falls-based SDN Communications, the premier regional provider of broadband connectivity and related services for businesses and institutions.

SDN member companies serve residential as well as business customers. Golden West has about 35,000 subscribers and 360 employees. Its holdings include Golden West Technologies, a subsidiary based in Rapid City. Golden West specializes in providing managed services, business systems and security monitoring for businesses.

Congratulations to Golden West on 100 years and continued success in the future.