Service for Joe: How an 81 year-old farmer helped residents in 3 ND counties get high-speed internet

Joe Paulson

BISMARCK, ND (KFGO) – Last month the Biden Administration announced that it would invest over 18 million dollars to expand internet access in remote areas of North Dakota. Now we’re learning about the 81-year-old farmer who got the ball rolling and is a big reason why over 1000 residents and nearly 100 farms are now poised to have high-speed internet for the first time.

Cory Herman, who up until about a month ago was a field representative for the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development, worked on the securing grant from the USDA’s ReConnect Program for almost two years after Joe Paulson contacted Senator John Hoeven’s office for help in getting internet at his farm.

“I had a folder on my desktop called SERVICE FOR JOE that had the different emails that we corresponded back and forth trying to figure out how we were going to get him service,” Herman said. “The last thing I got to do in my old job was call Joe and say ‘hey we got you connected – you’re going to get internet service.’”

Joe Paulson was dogged in his determination to get service, calling Herman every time he saw an announcement of a new grant and asking if it might be for his farm.

“I’m 81 years-old but believe me the internet is as extremely important to us older folks as it is to all the younger ones and I’m just so happy to hear that more schools and families are going to be able to participate in this,” Paulson said. “It was really a surprise when he (Herman) called and said that it was gonna happen.”

Paulson has seen a lot of changes in his life, including being around for rural electrification in the 1940s.

“I do remember when REA (the Rural Electrification Administration) brought electricity to our farmhouse on the river bottoms of the Missouri River – and that was exciting, but this is even more exciting,” Paulson said.

Residents, businesses, and public schools in Dunn, McKenzie and McLean counties will soon have high-speed internet thanks to Paulson’s persistence and the USDA’s ReConnect Program. Reservation Telephone Cooperative will use the $18,501,541 grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network. RTC will also be able to make service affordable by participating in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which gives eligible residents a discount of up to $30 per month. The project will also serve the Fort Berthold Reservation Tribal Entity.

For his part, Paulson isn’t done bringing this effort to fruition. He said he would be talking to his neighbors to help RTC get the easements they need to lay the fiber line.

Erin Oban, the director of Rural Development for the state, says they will begin accepting applications on September 6 for the next round of ReConnect. More information can be found at rd.usda.gov.

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