The telecommunications industry has come a long way over the past two decades. Chad Mutziger with Midstate Communications remembers the excitement of offering speeds up to 56K when the company was referred to as a telephone company.
He feels blessed to have witnessed the improvements throughout his 20-year telecommunications career with the company. Previously the marketing manager, Mutziger was recently chosen as the cooperative’s new General Manager, replacing Mark Benton who retired in April after 25 years.
“It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve learned a lot through the transitions, from dial-up to broadband and high-speed internet,” Mutziger said.
Mutziger has spent most of his life in South Dakota and attended the University of South Dakota to earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. His wife is also a USD graduate and a Chamberlain native. He followed her back to her hometown after graduation and accepted the Executive Director position at the South Dakota Hall of Fame. After living in Chamberlain for about four years, the marketing position at Midstate opened and intrigued him.
“It was a great opportunity. There’s not always a lot of opportunities like that in smaller communities and you need to jump,” he said. “Now 20-odd years later here I sit as the general manager.”
Other opportunities did pop up in the community. In addition to his job at Midstate, Mutziger is the Mayor of Chamberlain and a former City Commissioner. He and his family of five are happily entrenched in the community.
Midstate Communications serves south-central South Dakota, providing phone, TV and broadband services to members. Mutziger calls its coverage area “eclectic. The cooperative provides services to Hutterite colonies, tribal land, small towns, touches West River and hits larger cities such as Chamberlain, Platte and Kimball. While the base may skew older demographically and is agricultural-heavy, Mutziger said, customers of all ages and industries benefit from Midstate’s reliable services.
In its early days, the co-op was known as Midstate Telephone Company. Today, it’s a broadband internet provider with a 100% fiber network.
Building out the fiber infrastructure was a major step. Crews added approximately 3,000 route miles of fiber over several years with Midstate “biting off a chunk” each year. They finished the buildout about five years ago. Mutziger’s marketing role was key in developing materials that made the case for the cooperative’s investment.
“It’s not a cheap venture. Our members had to believe in what they were investing in,” he said.
Once they rolled out new speeds and moved away from dial-up, those members were able to better understand broadband and how its features and functionality made it better.
"We were able to go to our businesses and homes, ask about their needs and show how we could meet those needs," he said.
Mutziger says his marketing background is likely unique for telecom general managers. But he believes it helps him see things from the customer’s perspective.
He gained some of that insight through regular marketing meetings hosted by the South Dakota Telecommunications Association. Those meetings offered advice on how to sell products as well as a broader view on how sales and marketing impact the company’s bottom line, he said.
Mutziger is also grateful to his predecessor, Benton, for allowing him to explore opportunities outside the traditional marketing role, from learning more about legislative and regulatory rules to finances.
“Do I have a lot to learn? Absolutely! But no one can do it alone. You need a great team — and I have a great one. They’re helping me learn what I don’t know and we help each other,” he said.
Looking ahead, the demand for fiber will grow — and the demand for speed will grow, too, Mutziger said.
“We’re going to be there to meet the needs of our customers just like we have been since 1952,” he said.
Midstate is one of 17 independent broadband companies in South Dakota that own SDN Communications, which is the premier regional provider of broadband connectivity to businesses and institutions. The owner companies, also known as member companies, serve 80 percent of South Dakota’s geography and expands every year.