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North Dakota, one of the best-connected states in the country, is about to get even more connected to reliable, affordable broadband.

The DCN Statewide Middle Mile Backbone Upgrade is a $43.8 million project. It is comprised of two elements: adding middle mile fiber route miles and upgrading electronics to support the increased network demand to terabit speed. To accomplish the network upgrade, four of DCN’s Owner companies are also participating in this grant: BEK Communications, based in Steele, N.D.; Dakota Central, based in Carrington, N.D.; MLGC, based in Enderlin, N.D.; and RTC Networks, based in Parshall, N.D.

To help fund the upgrade, DCN has been awarded a $19.7 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), with the remaining $24 million coming from DCN and the participating subrecipients. Over the past decade, DCN’s 13 Owner companies and DCN have invested more than $1 billion in North Dakota’s broadband infrastructure.

“The demand for broadband capacity continues to grow, and this grant provides critical funding that allows DCN and our Owners to continue providing customers reliable, high-speed connectivity at an affordable price,” explained Seth Arndorfer, DCN CEO. “This middle mile infrastructure provides the crucial connection from the greater internet to the end user. It’s not something we think about every day, but without a reliable middle mile, commerce grinds to a halt.”

“Middle mile” refers to the segment of a broadband network that connects the user’s core network to the local network, connecting the global internet to the end user. The middle mile typically serves as the backbone for a region and does not directly connect end-user locations.

DCN will add five new network segments across the state: Bismarck to Carrington, Jamestown to Carrington, Devils Lake to Carrington, Fargo to Carrington, and Alexander to Max. These segments will add 612.99 leased fiber route miles to DCN’s middle mile backbone infrastructure. BEK will add 28.4 miles to their middle mile backbone infrastructure, and Dakota Central will add 233.2 miles to their middle mile backbone infrastructure. Altogether, the project will add 874.59 fiber route miles across the state.

These additional fiber miles will create a fully meshed topology within North Dakota, meaning that if there is any kind of problem at one point in the state, it can seamlessly reroute and not affect the entire network, adding redundancy, resiliency, and survivability to this critical infrastructure.

The second element, upgrading to terabit-capable electronics will support the increased network demand and ensure the network has the capacity to fulfill the needs of anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, and public safety entities as they provide critical services to the citizens of North Dakota.

“This program is unique because DCN’s middle mile backbone infrastructure connects all of North Dakota through our 13 Owner companies and our combined fiber infrastructure,” added Arndorfer. “By expanding DCN’s fiber optic backbone and network capacity, all North Dakotans benefit. This network upgrade will enable DCN to provide massive capacity to enterprises, hyperscalers, and our Owner companies with terabit speeds, furthering North Dakota’s position to support emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, precision ag, and autonomy.”

It is estimated that the entire project will be complete by year end 2025.

North Dakota’s anchor institutions recognized the need for DCN’s grant application. DCN received 25 letters of support from officials and entities ranging from Governor Doug Burgum and multiple state agencies to regional healthcare systems, land grant universities, and public safety entities. The letters of support demonstrate that public and private entities across the state understand the need for this infrastructure that is crucial to the vitality of North Dakota.