Telecommuting in South Dakota

Posted by Gary Ellenbolt on

In the days before we became part of the Global Village, going to work meant “going to work.”  A few people were able to walk or bike to the office, or the school, or the restaurant, or wherever.  The rest got in their cars and headed for their jobs.  Everyone worked their assigned hours, headed back home, and got ready to do it again the next day.  The concept of “work,” short of those classified ads that allowed you to address envelopes or something similar, meant, necessarily, being somewhere else.

Now—if everything’s in place and the boss is fine with it, the commute could shorten to a walk from the bedroom to the home office.  Telecommuting has been a possibility for more than a decade.

John Seiber has taken advantage of the modern technology for more than a decade—with the equipment in his home and suitable internet access, he can do a radio show from his basement in Sisseton, and sound just like he’s in the studios of KDLO in Watertown.

“Now, I can do everything at my station in Watertown, and it’s just—we have programs on either end that I can log in and run the station, just like I’m sitting in the studio in Watertown.  But I can do all that from my laptop, with just a hand-held microphone.  But, like my studio here in Sisseton, I have a 12-channel board, a telephone coupler I can use to take calls and stuff.”

Seiber, who also works on SDPB’s State High School Basketball Tournament Broadcasts, has a studio set up in his house.  He has also broadcast his morning radio show at sites around the state—and even performed on-air from the front porch of his boyhood home in Stony Fork, Tennessee.

“The faster your internet speed, the better.  If you’re doing video, you need really fast speed.  Audio, on the download, not so much—but you always want to look at the upload.  If you can get a heavier upload than download, then you’re really good.  That’s the main thing.”

Companies in South Dakota can offer several different speeds for the needs of those who would work away from the office.  Kevin Ancell is with South Dakota’s operation for Qwest.  He says the company gets calls all the time asking about home office services.

“Typically, the first thing they ask for is, ‘Is broadband available in my area.  And then, the typical customer, unless they’ve been prepped by their I-T Department, will usually ask for the fastest speed available.  And then, depending on what’s available, from Gigabit to seven megs, then they’re gonna ask about price—because not everybody needs a Gigabit.”   

As we both know, South Dakota is full of wide-open spaces where technological changes come slowly.  In fact, it was 19-72 before 99 percent of the state had access to electricity.  One person who has faced the issue of rural internet access is Kristie Fiegen.  She’s a member of South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission, who grew up on a farm just a few miles from Sioux Falls.

“That has not had access to high-speed Internet.  So, my brother and his family just connected to a wireless provider, and they have a dish that’s connected to a tower near the home elevator area—and they have much, much better speed than they’ve ever had.”

Fiegen says the technology is out there—rural customers may not have high speed broadband, but, thanks to satellite internet and various cell phone companies, they’re not left out, either.  Plus, Fiegen says, broadband opportunities are expanding.

“And so, in South Dakota, our rural telephone providers have access about 70 percent of the homes, with 25-3 service.  So that’s pretty good.  We have about 45 thousand miles of buried fiber in our rural communities.”

The 25-3 service Fiegen speaks of refers to 25 kilobytes per second of download speed, and three kilobytes per second upload speed.  She says six telephone companies in South Dakota offer the technology—and funds are out there for more.

“It’s all about their capital expenses.  And in South Dakota, in the last five years, we have spent over 365 million dollars in capital expenses on fiber to the home.  But, they get a lot of money from that Universal Service Fund.”

The Universal Service Fund is a program administered by the Federal Communications Commission.  It sprang from the Telecommunications Act of 19-96, under the idea everyone in the country should have access to the latest technology.  The money for the program comes from people like you; when you get a telephone or other bill having to do with communications, your company may show the U-S-F on there.  That goes to the government for companies to invest in equipment an infrastructure.  Fiegen says South Dakota receives a lot more from these fees than people in the state pay.  She says it’s enough for more companies to lay the groundwork for state-of-the-art internet access.

As the concept of working from home grows, the equipment is getting more efficient.  KDLO Radio’s John Seiber began working remotely more than 20 years ago, and has seen most of the evolvement of equipment to make telecommuting work.

“But what I found, is apps are coming out for your tablet or smartphone, where you can do everything right from your smartphone.  You don’t need 20-30 thousand dollars worth of equipment.”

The further equipment upgrades, new software, and an employer that’s fine with someone working from the home office, South Dakota’s workforce has the chance to replace the storefront, with the home front.





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