In May of 1935 the Rural Electrification Administration, better known by its initials REA, came into being to provide electricity to farms and small communities. Besides bringing the benefits of electricity to make farms more productive and add modern conveniences to the farm homes, electricity to power radios reduced the feeling of isolation for farm families. Telephone service, widely available in populated areas, wasn’t available due to the high cost of rural development.
In the early months of 1949, Congress was working on legislation to provide rural telephone service modeled after the success of the REA. While farmers and farm organizations applauded the rural telephone bill, private telephone companies such as Bell Telephone strongly opposed it, calling it socialism. The House passed the bill on July 13, 1949, but it dragged on in the Senate. Farmers, encouraged by farm organizations, began writing thousands of letters to Congress, and in early November of 1949, the law passed and was quickly signed by President Harry Truman. Twenty-five million dollars was made available for low-interest loans. The first Rural Telephone Administration loan in North Dakota was given to Abercrombie for one quarter of a million dollars.
The REAs became involved after a significant advancement in emerging technology by Western Electric. Known as the side carrier telephone system, it transformed REA power lines into telephone lines. The telephone signal could be carried by the power line using a converter between the phones and the electrical wiring. It was cheap, easy to install and required little maintenance.
On this date in 1950, a report was published on the progress of providing rural telephone service. While seventeen applications for loans by REAs totaling slightly over one million dollars were made in North Dakota, private companies were also attempting to obtain their share of the market. Over the one year period since the bill was passed, Bell Telephone expanded services across the state. Buildings and lines were established in Williston, Minot, Crosby, Max, Rutland, Litchville and other areas as they worked to complete an estimated twenty-five million dollar development program. Many rural areas decided it was easier and faster to have Bell Telephone provide the service. In the long run, RTAs were not as widely distributed as REAs, but the 1949 legislation was instrumental in bringing rural telephone service to North Dakota by energizing the competition. Now farmers had one more thing besides the rooster to wake them up – the ringing of a telephone.
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The Bismarck Capital December 1, 1950