The Story Of How The Internet Arrived In North Dakota

Written by: Andrew Jason

Photos by Hillary Ehlen and courtesy of Dakota Carrier Network

Featured photo: Dakota Carrier Network CEO Seth Arndorfer in their data center in their Bismarck office.

You use the internet every day, but have you ever given much thought about how it works? Our guess is no. Fun fact: Netflix, online banking, tele-med and really anything you do on the internet is brought to you through fiber-optics. What’s most amazing is that one strand of fiber is less than a tenth as thick as a strand of human hair and can carry around 25,000 telephone calls.

Thanks to over 40,000 miles of fiber-optics that have been put in place across North Dakota by DCN (Dakota Carrier Network) and its 14 owner companies, you can make phone calls, play Fortnite and stream Netflix seamlessly. This also means your business can effortlessly expand from one location to multiple locations while your data remains securely stored and your network never goes down.

North Dakota, it’s time for you to meet the internet.

A North Dakota Success Company

There’s something uniquely North Dakotan about 14 independent companies coming together to form a company they can all use to enhance communication services for their customers. That’s how DCN was formed.

“The idea formed when the internet was being introduced in the late ‘90s,” said DCN CEO Seth Arndorfer. “North Dakota’s then-telephone companies had a subset of their customers that needed to get connected to this thing called the internet so they all got together and decided it would be more beneficial to customers if they created a company that would tie all of their fiber networks together and form a single connection to hubs in Chicago rather than investing in individual fiber connections.”

Now, DCN connects every school in the state and provides internet access to all K-12 schools and higher education, most branches of state government, county courthouses and much more. In partnership with their 14 owner companies, DCN provides internet to nearly every community in the state.

And while there are 28 states across the country that have companies similar to DCN, what makes DCN truly unique is that every independent rural broadband company, formerly known as telephone companies, in the state participated in forming DCN.

How Your Business Can Utilize DCN

Business owners need to focus on their business, so their IT needs are often overlooked. However, in 2019, every company needs to look at themselves as a technology company. No matter what industry you are in, you are probably reliant on data. Companies like DCN can help you navigate the complexity of making sure your data is properly stored and you’re always connected.

“We have the experts here at DCN. This is what we do day in and day out,” Arndorfer said. “We sit down with businesses and consult with them on the different solutions that we have and find the best product that fits their needs and their budget.”

Let’s look at a couple of different scenarios for your business and what you need to know to make sure you’re properly prepared for them.

Scenario: You are opening a second location

DCN’s bread and butter is working with companies that are expanding into multiple locations. One of their customers is First International Bank & Trust, which has 27 locations across North Dakota, Minnesota and Arizona. Because of the fiber optics network across the state, First International Bank’s service is never down. DCN also partners with other companies across the country to ensure that the branches are connected with all the other offices.

Arndorfer walked us through the steps of what happens if you’re expanding into multiple locations.

“If you’re going to build a new building, and many of our customers are growing, the first thing we want to do is identify if we have fiber close by. The real driver of our data center is that people want to be on our fiber network. In Fargo, we have over 200 miles of fiber traversing through the city. We have roughly the same amount in Bismarck.”

Scenario: I own a family farm and need better internet connectivity

Agriculture is a booming industry for technology, which means that reliable internet is more important than ever for rural areas. Today, grain bins, grain elevators, tractors and much more are all connected by the Internet of Things. If there isn’t reliable internet, then the equipment doesn’t work. DCN’s 14 owner companies serve all of rural North Dakota, so DCN is able to reach remote locations which other carriers might simply pass by.

This connectivity isn’t just helping farms run a business; it’s helping people’s lives.

“I’m from Hettinger, which is a very small town,” Arndorfer said. “My grandparents live 30 miles south of Hettinger. They actually have fiber to the farm. My grandma is 94 years old and because of that broadband connection, she’s able to communicate with the hospital and have check-ins. It’s enabled her to live who knows how many more years on the farm.”

Scenario: I’m starting my own web development firm

Most businesses underestimate the impact of their network going offline. Let’s say you’re a web developer and you land a large e-commerce company as a client. If you’re hosting that website and you go offline, you are costing that client a large amount of money. With DCN’s secure network and focus on redundancy, they have an impressive 99.999 percent uptime, which means that, in a calendar year, they’re only down about 23 minutes.

“It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, if you don’t have access to your data, how productive are you?” Arndorfer said. “If you’re a marketing firm? Architectural? Engineering? All branches of government? Any business in North Dakota is reliant on their data.”

Scenario: You’re migrating your data to the cloud

Ah, the ever-talked-about but hard-to-explain cloud. In a perfect world where budgets are limitless, every business would buy a super computer and store their data on-site. However, within a couple years, that computer would be out of date. Or, what happens if your building burns down? All your data would be lost. Well, if you move your data to the cloud with DCN, that info is always backed up and stored on the latest technology. (In fact, DCN replaces the cards that the data is stored on every seven years.) This means that you can rest easy knowing that your data is always secure.

Dakota Carrier Network

“If you wonder where the cloud is, this is actually the cloud,” said Arndorfer, pointing to the servers. “In the space that we’re in now, customers can actually bring their own storage in. They bring in however much storage capacity they need. It’s typically in petabytes at this point.”

Did You Know?

  • DCN’s owner companies have invested, on average, $100 million per year for the last 10-12 years to install fiber optic cable across the state of North Dakota.
  • DCN’s goal of having a packet delivered anywhere within the state is 50 milliseconds. This means that if you’re playing an online game and you hit the button to move left, for it to go from your controller to the game’s server back to your screen is as fast as you can blink an eye.
  • Every 12 to 18 months, the amount of internet consumption doubles.
Dakota Carrier Network
This is a photo of DCN’s Great Plains Data Center in Fargo. Probably the easiest way of explaining how a company can take advantage of their data center co-location is by comparing it to renting an apartment. You can either rent a full, half or a third of a cabinet. You can then either provide your own servers or rent DCN’s servers.

How It Works (as explained by DCN CEO Seth Arndorfer)

Since DCN was formed by telephone companies, Arndorfer explained the process of how you’re able to make a call no matter where you are in the world.

  1. “If I’m going to call Andrew from my cell phone, I dial the cell phone number, and it finds the nearest cellphone tower no matter where I’m driving.”
  2. “It hits that cell tower and hits a DCN fiber. It comes back to this building to this device here.”
  3. “Then, it’s going to run on a fiber from this router to your wireless carrier’s office and say, ‘Where’s Seth? He’s on that tower.’ It routes it back to this piece of equipment and out to that cell tower.”
  4. “If I fly to Augusta, Georgia, and you make that call, it takes the same path from your phone to the cell tower, hits this router and goes to your wireless carrier and says, ‘Where’s Seth?’ It doesn’t go wirelessly from user to user. It goes wirelessly from the user to the nearest tower and then it jumps on to fiber.”
Dakota Carrier Network
Everything in DCN is built with redundancy so that if they need to do maintenance or repairs, the customer will never experience an outage.


In 2019, one of a business’s most valuable assets is its data. However, few businesses properly protect this data. That’s where DCN comes in. Their data centers in Bismarck and Fargo are built to withstand an F4 tornado and are 100 percent hardened. Everything is also built with redundancy, which means if there is any equipment failure, your data will remain intact.

This extra protection is absolutely necessary, particularly for customers like banks and hospitals for which secure data is a critical need for people’s safety.

“We have customers, like banks, that when you do an online banking transaction, you might wonder, ‘Where is that actually happening?’” Arndorfer said. “In a lot of cases in North Dakota, it’s happening in one of our data centers. And our focus on redundancy means there is always two of everything for added safety. Even our customers with online banking servers will install one version of their server at our Fargo data center and then, thanks in part to our extensive fiber network, they can mirror it to our data center in Bismarck. If anything were to happen to data in Fargo, whether it’s a corrupt disk or a failed server, the customer’s data remains safe and accessible because it is automatically replicated in our Bismarck data center, and vice versa.”


  • Data center
  • Data storage and recovery
  • Cloud services
  • Cybersecurity Services
  • Carrier Ethernet
  • Dedicated Internet

Dakota Carrier Network

3901 Great Plains Dr. S, Fargo

4202 Coleman St., Bismarck

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