Red River Communications - Fall 2020 Newsletter

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FALL 2020




Keeping Our Students Connected

Red River Communications’ crew works to plow new fiber cable in July.

Your FiberFASTTM Internet Cooperative

From the General Manager


Steinolfson Chosen as Next CEO




Red River Communications Fall 2020

Fall 2020 Edition Volume 5, Issue 2 The Red River Communications newsletter is published quarterly for our members. It is distributed free-of-charge to our members in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.

BOARD OF DIRECTORS Dave Gauslow President District 1 - Abercrombie Ronald German Vice-President District 8 - Fairmount/Hankinson Gary Boutiette Secretary/Treasurer District 5 - Kent Wayne Schindler District 2 - Barnesville Rhonda Erbes District 3 - Colfax Harlan Deike District 4 - Great Bend Neil Klosterman District 6 - Mooreton Thomas Bjorndahl District 7 - Rollag Jan Schmit District 9 - Lidgerwood/Wyndmere Red River Rural Telephone Assoc. 510 Broadway, PO Box 136 Abercrombie, ND 58001 Cover Photo: RRC crews plow new fiber cable alongside a road. Produced by the staff of Red River Communications

Jeffrey Olson GENERAL MANAGER/CEO After 30 years, 6 months, and 26 days, I will be retiring from Red River Communications. My official last day is December 31, 2020. Tom Steinolfson has been hired to lead Red River Communications into the future. It was on September 25, 1989 that I knew I had to find a job where I could leave at the end of the day and come home. I was working for a company that required me to travel in 10 states, and on that day my first daughter, Shelby, was born in Alexandria, MN. Working on the road was no longer fun and I wanted to be home with my family. I had the good fortune of working at Red River Telephone while with my previous employer. The soon-to-be-manager, Ardon Doran, offered me the job of Central Office Supervisor upon the retirement of then Manager Wayne Holmquist. Though it’s been 30 plus years, it seems like yesterday. Today I have three grown children and we’ve been blessed with two grandchildren. My plan for retirement is to spend a lot more time with family and to spoil those grandkids! The telephone industry was much different in 1990. Believe it or not, there was no internet, no caller ID, no cell phones, and our office had one computer that was used to manage the digital switching equipment. It wasn’t long after that technology exploded. It is hard to believe that we got along back then without computers and the internet! Our kids do not know what it is like to live in a world without internet and cell phones. It has been exciting being a part of this technology revolution, and Red River has always prided itself in staying ahead of the technology curve. Red River was among the first companies in the state to bring fiber-tothe-home to its cooperative members, and today offers the fastest and most advanced communication services to our members. Though I have been manager since 2003, the credit for getting Red River Communications to this point goes to all my fellow co-workers. I have had a great career with Red River that was only made better by the wonderful people I have had the privilege of working with over the years. It hasn’t always been easy, but I can assure you that your cooperative is in good hands with the people who work here. I can’t thank them enough, and I wish them all well as they continue their careers at Red River. Finally, I want to thank all the members and customers of Red River Communications for allowing me to serve as manager.

Jeff: We sincerely wish you the best in your retirement and thank you for all you’ve done for our Cooperative. Thank you for all the memories, laughs, and leadership.

It has been quite a ride! - The team at Red River Communications



From the General Manager



We remain fully staffed from 7:30am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday. Masks are strongly encouraged if you choose to visit our lobby. Customers will be asked health screening questions by our member support specialists and our technicians prior to any service appointments. Additionally, our staff will be wearing personal protective equipment such as gloves, shoe covers, and masks when performing service related work. We encourage you to follow us on Facebook and check our website for the latest COVID-related updates. We appreciate your understanding as we work together to keep everyone safe!

Jan Schmit Joins Board of Directors Red River Communications welcomes Jan Schmit as the new director for District 9, the Lidgerwood and Wyndmere Exchanges. She was elected in June to fill the position opened after Ione Eckre retired from the board of directors. Cooperative members submitted ballots in March and the COVID-19 pandemic had delayed the ballot opening until now.

Welcome to Red River Communications’ board of directors!

Steinolfson chosen as next general manager

We’re proud to announce that Tom Steinolfson, past CEO of IAMO Communications in Coin, IA, has been selected by the Cooperative’s Board of Directors to be our next General Manager/CEO. He started his new duties on August 31. With 32 years of service to the communications industry, Tom brings a strong understanding of regulatory operations, customer service, billing, and financial matters. Mr. Steinolfson is originally from North Dakota. He spent 29 years at BEK Communications with the last five as their Chief Operations Officer. “I speak for the entire board in welcoming Tom Steinolfson to our Cooperative. Tom has shown tremendous leadership and personal growth during his career. Tom is a seasoned leader and looks forward to working with the strong team we have in place to continue our legacy of superior service at affordable prices,” said Board President Dave Gauslow. “I’m very excited about the future of our industry and thrilled to be coming back to North Dakota to join the Red River Communications team. The organization is a very impressive rural communications provider,” said Steinolfson.

In Memoriam

Former Board Member Wallace “Wally” Stetz passed away in April 2020 at the age of 87. Wally served as a director from our Barnesville exchange and also cooked many of our annual meeting meals. We will miss him and his smile!

For the Common Good

The Common Cents board of directors meet quarterly to review applications and made two donations during their June meeting, with a total of $184,446.50 being awarded since the program started in 2008. Common Cents is a non-profit entity operated separately from


Colfax Fire Department $2,500 for turnout gear

Red River Communications. It awards funds to local non-profit and community organizations, as well as offering emergency & medical assistance for local individuals. Funds are raised when Cooperative customers choose to round up their monthly

bill to the next dollar. A taxdeductible donation of less than one dollar per month is made to Common Cents.

for more information

Richland-Wilkin Emergency Food Pantry $2,500 to replace a freezer

$184,446.50 Donated since 2008 to causes in our Communities

Annual Meeting Update The Cooperative’s 68th Annual Meeting was scheduled for March 18, 2020, however, due to COVID-19 safety concerns, the in-person Annual Meeting was canceled. Instead, business to be transacted at the Annual Meeting was handled by written ballot. Jan Schmit of District 9 Lidgerwood & Wyndmere exchanges was elected to the board. Two incumbent directors were re-elected: Wayne Schindler of District 2 - Barnesville Exchange and Gary Boutiette of District 5 – Kent Exchange. The minutes of the 2019 meeting and the financial report were also approved by written ballot. Next year’s Annual Meeting is expected to be held March 18, 2021 in Abercrombie, ND.

Copies of our annual report are available at our office in Abecrombie.

New Directory Listings Kevin Frank

701-242-9387 - Hankinson

Jerry Wieber

701-538-4362 – Lidgerwood



Jan has lived in the Wyndmere area all her life and is excited to learn about the telecommunications industry. She works in the office of Schmit Housemovers in Wyndmere with her husband Nick. The Schmits have four grown children and five grandchildren.

Common Cents

RedRiver RiverCommunications CommunicationsFall Fall2020 2020 Red

Red River Communications Fall 2020




The main requirement was that students’ families be current members of our cooperative. Money for these scholarships came from unclaimed capital credits. Unclaimed capital credits are retained as a scholarship fund. Previously one $500 scholarship was offered to students of our Cooperative members attending one of three school districts. This year the Board expanded Red River Communications’ scholarship program to use North Dakota unclaimed capital credits for scholarships and offer scholarships throughout six school districts in North Dakota. These are known as the Minnesota or North Dakota Co-op Scholarships. Up to two $1,000 scholarships were offered in the Hawley, Barnesville and Breckenridge school districts and one $1,000 scholarship in each of the Fairmount, Hankinson, Lidgerwood, Richland, Wahpeton and Wyndmere school districts. Again, students whose parent or guardian had service within our cooperative service area were eligible to apply.

Lily Baldwin

Barnesville (BHS)




Don & Jaye

April & Brian



UND (Aviation)

NDSCS (Practical Nursing)

Derian Gerdes

Brady Grefsrud

Hawley (HHS)




Stacy & Jeremiah

Mike & Dawn



Bemidji State (Computer Science)

NDSU (Accounting)

Matthew Haugrud

Cory Hulm

Barnesville (BHS)

Wyndmere (WHS)



Cindy & Kelly

Melissa & the late Randy Hulm



NDSU (Electrical Engineering)

NDSCS (Building Construction Tech)

Erica Plummer

Shayla Rensvold

Wahpeton (WHS)




Kelly & James Mitchell Jenn & Vince Plummer

Mike Rensvold Mystical Rovig



NDSCS (OT Assistant)

M State (Accounting)

Isaiah Specht

Anna Wallock

Barnesville (BHS)




Stephanie & Andrew

Ryan & Angie



M State (Auto Mechanic Technology)

Valley City State (Elementary Education)

Zach Wulfekuhle


PARENTS Cassie & Tom


NDSCS (Land Surveying)


We’re proud to have this opportunity to help local students further their educations. Congratulations to the 2020 scholarship winners!

Graham Abarr

Red River Communications Fall 2020

Red River Communications Fall 2020

2020 Co-op Scholarship Recipients

This year Red River Communications awarded $11,000 in scholarships to area high school seniors.





This year has been like no other we’ve experienced in modern history. Since March, much of society has moved online for work and socialization.

Red River Communications Fall 2020

Red River Communications Fall 2020


The biggest change was perhaps for our students in our local schools. Schools began closing in mid-March and it quickly became clear that the remainder of the school year would be dramatically different. Instead of in-person learning, nearly every K-12 student in our area was thrust into the world of online learning. Like everything in this rapidly changing world, it required quick thinking especially from our educators. “The school closure forced us to ‘Apollo-13’ a distance learning platform, literally in days,” noted Chris Potter, Counselor and CTE Career Development from Richland #44. “From a school counseling perspective, this meant some very fast research on tele-counseling best practices and building a virtual school counseling process from the ground up.” Not only did educators have to reimagine what the classroom looked like, it became necessary to ensure that each student had adequate access to broadband internet. Red River Communications partnered with our local school districts to ensure that each child who needed internet access would have internet access so that they could complete their school year from their home without barriers. “Without their (RRC) assistance we would have struggled educating every child at Wyndmere Public School. Although distance learning is not ideal, the assistance from Red River

Pictured: Richland 44 in Colfax

Britney Gandhi - Richland 44 Superintendent

Communications helped make it a better overall experience,” said Scott Strenge, Wyndmere High School principal. Our team completed nearly 60 installations over the span of just two weeks to get students and staff connected to reliable internet connections. This often meant temporarily installing fiber cable to reach new locations, sometimes nearly a mile away from existing fiber facilities. “They worked tirelessly with our team to make sure that 100% of our families were up and running before we officially started CONNECT #44, our online learning platform; consequently, not one child was missed and every Richland #44 student was able to complete the school year equally,” remarked Britney Gandhi, Superintendent of Richland #44. Red River Communications and the other Broadband Association of ND (BAND) members collectively connected nearly 1,800 families to internet across North Dakota during just the first three weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. In our area, students attending Abercrombie, Barnesville, Breckenridge, Colfax, Fairmount, Hankinson, Hawley, Kindred, Lidgerwood, Wahpeton, and Wyndmere were connected during the pandemic. This herculean effort was recently recognized by North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum as he proclaimed July 21, 2020 to be Broadband Provider Day in North Dakota.



Students attending schools in Abercrombie, Barnesville, Breckenridge, Colfax, Fairmount, Hankinson, Hawley, Kindred, Lidgerwood, Wahpeton, and Wyndmere were connected during the beginning of the pandemic.

“...not one child was missed and every Richland #44 student was able to complete the school year equally.”

Red River Communications’ crew works to plow new fiber cable in July.

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1111 Red River Communications Fall 2020

Red River Communications Fall 2020

Digital TV UPgrade Project ALL DIGITAL TV SUBSCRIBERS WILL BE UPGRADED BY JANUARY 1 In August we began the process of upgrading our Digital TV subscribers to a new platform.

begin in their exchange. Upgrades will take place throughout the fall and early winter.

This new platform offers features like Cloud DVR, Restart TV, and the ability to access your DVR recordings from your mobile device. We are excited about these new features and know you will be too!

Feel free to call our office at 701-553-8309 if you have any questions regarding how this project may affect your Digital TV service.

Digital TV subscribers will receive a letter approximately two weeks before upgrades Why do we need a Digital TV upgrade? What does that mean? The current Digital TV equipment that we use is in the process of being discontinued. That means equipment including the set top boxes and remote controls must be upgraded in order to continue receiving Digital TV. There is no cost for this upgrade. What happens to my DVR recordings? DVR recordings cannot be transferred to your new Digital TV equipment. It’s a good idea to watch any programming you might have saved before your equipment is upgraded. You will receive a letter at least two weeks prior to upgrades starting in your exchange. We also will be offering three different “sizes” of DVR, which means you can upgrade your DVR service if it gets full.

The upgrade will take between 1-2 hours for most digital TV subscribers. A legal adult will need to be at home during the upgrade process.

How do I get scheduled for an upgrade? Upgrades will take place by exchange and started with Abercrombie, Kent, and Colfax in August. All upgrades will be completed by the end of 2020. Prior to upgrades starting in an exchange, a letter will be sent out to affected digital TV subscribers. Will the channel numbers be different? No - with one exception. We are eliminating different channels for SD and HD feeds. That means, for example, channel 11 will be the HD feed of NBC. All channels will be in their HD feed regardless of the channel number. Will this upgrade cost anything? Will my monthly bill go up? The upgrade is completely free of charge to all Digital TV customers. There will be no increase in programming costs related to the Digital TV upgrade.

The new one-touch weather and radar functionality is available standard on each programming package. Will my remote control be different? Yes - the new digital TV equipment utilizes two different remotes (shown on the right). One remote is very similar to the remote found on your current Digital TV equipment. The second remote features large illuminated buttons and is very easy-to-use. The technician who upgrades your service will provide you with an option of which remote you prefer.

Are there new features available?

How do I get signed up for an upgrade?

Yes! We’re most excited about the Cloud DVR function, which allows you to store your favorite programs in the cloud. That means you can access your recordings from anywhere including from a mobile device.

You will be contacted via mail and by phone when it is time for your exchange to be upgraded. If you have questions on the timeline, please call us at 701-553-8309.

Standard “Potenza” Remote

Big Button Remote

Learn more at



How long will the upgrade take? Do I need to be home?

Below, we’ve compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions about the Digital TV upgrade project.

PO Box 136 510 Broadway Abercrombie, ND 58001




Monday-Friday 7:30am-4:30pm

Need assistance? We’re here 24/7 to help you!

No added fees! Online or by phone.

Closed Saturday and Sunday



Your FiberFASTTM Internet Cooperative