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NCC: Moving technology ahead in the oil patch

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NCC: Moving technology ahead in the oil patch

BY PATRICIA STOCKDILL


People living, working and traveling in northwestern North Dakota – the heart of the state’s oil boom – appreciate the litany of road construction and improvement projects.
Construction is keeping more than road crews on the move. Crews and contractors working with Northwest Communications Cooperative (NCC), based in Ray, are busily coordinating with county and state offi cials involving road construction projects, relocating older buried communications cable ahead of roadwork. Examples include digging up and moving cable for a major truck bypass northwest of Williston, explained NCC Engineering Manager Todd Watterud.
NCC crews have moved underground facilities for other road projects in the Powers Lake, Round Prairie, Marmon and Tioga exchanges.
At the same time, NCC continues its ongoing fi ber-to-the-home (FTTH) projects, Watterud added. So far this year, FTTH has been completed for approximately 40 customers in NCC’s Powers Lake exchange.
 

Work continues on FTTH for the rural Ray exchange, including about 165 miles of fi ber optic cable that will ultimately link about 190 customers. In addition, contractors are working on FTTH in the Wildrose area.
“This will complete fi ber-to-the-home for the Wildrose exchange outside the city limits,” Watterud continued. The construction phase for the Wildrose project involves about 45 customers and 65 miles of cable.
NCC will have almost 50 percent of its rural service area FTTH project complete once the two projects are done. Rural Utilities Services (RUS) provided low-interest loan funding for much of NCC’s fi ber-to-the-home projects.
Service lines to the 45 homes in the Wildrose area have been plowed with work ongoing to lay the mainline fi ber optic cable.
However, signifi cant demands for fi ber optic cable throughout the United States – and beyond – are delaying NCC’s ability to complete the projects this year as demand outpaces supply, Watterud said.
NCC is already making its 2015 construction plans even as the 2014 construction season winds down. If possible, tentative plans call for NCC to continue its fi ber-to-the-home projects in portions of the Tioga and rural Columbus exchanges, Watterud said.
However, many factors enter into whether NCC can complete its 2014 construction plans and start 2015 work, Watterud described. The availability of fi ber cable will be a major factor, he explained, as they already work to place orders now for cable delivery in 2015.

 


Another potential delay involves acquisition of the multitude of right-of-way easements necessary for laying the main cable. Landowners might be forgiven if they have “easement overload” – an inundation of requests to access land to bury something – everything from gas and oil pipelines, electric power lines, fi ber optic cable, and a myriad of other infrastructure needs to be buried on someone else’s land.
And, like so many businesses in northwestern North Dakota, the demand for qualifi ed contractors far exceeds supply. Contractors, like other businesses, have diffi culty fi nding housing for their workers and meeting the competitive wages offered elsewhere in the energy industry.
Watterud attributes much of NCC’s growth to the energy industry, both directly through industrial development as well as residential growth.
“A lot of our growth is happening around Williston and to the north and northwest,” Watterud described.
However, other areas are growing, as well. For example, the hamlet of Epping has a second large housing development project that when complete will almost double its current population. A nearby oil terminal rail loading facility already prompted one housing development and construction is starting on the second.

Other examples include an expanding industrial park in Tioga.
Growth ranges from single-family homes and residential developments to businesses and major industrial complexes.
However, it’s not just oil and gas driving business, industry and residential customers’ needs for telecommunications in NCC’s service area. An uptick in agriculture is also keeping NCC on the move: New Century Ag built a new elevator and fertilizer plant near Noonan, Watterud said. Farmers Union Elevator in Ray is building a new fertilizer plant, and Sun Prairie Grain recently built a new fertilizer facility in Bowbells.
While landlines are still an important service to NCC’s customers – especially in rural areas where wireless reception can be iffy at times – “the number one thing they (customers) want is the most bandwidth they can get,” Watterud described.
The pace of the ongoing growth and service needs continues at a strong rate, Watterud said. At this point, it appears that the demand has not yet peaked, he added. In fact, there is the distinct possibility that as Williston and its outlying area continue experiencing growth, it will continue reaching into NCC’s
service area.


Patricia Stockdill is a freelance writer in Garrison.