Founding: First in the Nation
C.R.S.T. Telephone Authority began its formal organizational history in 1958 when the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe purchased a privately owned telephone company.
Chairman Frank Ducheneaux, Sr. led the effort and, $105,000.00 later, the first tribal telephone company in the United States became reality. In the decades since, eight other tribes have started their own telecommunication companies – speaking to the power for C.R.S.T.T.A. as a role model and the importance of the decision.
From founding until the 1970’s, the company struggled with aerial plant and old switching equipment. At that time telephone service was multi-party and always at the mercy of Mother Nature, and most rural folks throughout the reservation did not have phone service. Some farmer/rancher owned switching companies did exist – the Green Grass Telephone Company is an example – and they owned and maintained their own neighborhood system. These privately-owned systems then linked into the main system that was located in Eagle Butte.
1970’s: Service to Everyone
The tribal telephone company and the reservation’s population changed drastically in a period from 1974 to 1977. In another first, Tribal and Telco management became the first tribe to borrow from the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) – a government program designed to finance electric and telephone systems. Cheyenne River Telephone took advantage of this program and built single party buried copper telephone service throughout the reservation. This project was completed in 1977.
The REA funding not only provided new modern telephone plant and switching equipment, but also allowed a new headquarter building to be constructed in Eagle Butte. The company employed new young technicians and purchased new service vehicles and construction equipment, modernizing the company in just a few short years.
1990s – 2000s: Continued Improvements
Through 50 plus years of progression, the company has worked hard to provide the most modern state of the art telecommunications services available to its customers. In 1999, the company upgraded all five (5) telephone exchanges to new Nortel Digital Switches to be Y2K compliant. The year 2000 saw Class services such as Caller ID, ISDN features and other SS7 offerings.
Over 250 miles of fiber optic cable has been installed as a backbone to haul local and long-distance traffic throughout the service area. The company has over 1,800 miles of buried underground copper cable that offered continuous and reliable service during the harsh winter weather of the South Dakota plains. The company service area consists of 4,600 square miles which includes 20 communities spread out over 2.8 million acres of land.
In 2008, C.R.S.T. Telephone Authority leveraged a USDA RUS Broadband Loan and began offering IPTV Service. This was yet another first: IPTV, or Internet Protocol Television, at that time was very new, and C.R.S.T. Telephone Authority was the first company in the state of South Dakota to offer it. This service utilized the DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) technology, satellites and middleware which required costly equipment upgrades and replacements every two years. In 2013, yet another costly equipment replacement was required and it was at this point, the C.R.S.T. Telephone Authority Board of Directors made the decision to suspend the service indefinitely.
2008: Fiber for the Future
In 2008, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe authorized the C.R.S.T. Telephone Authority Board of Directors to move forward with the USDA Rural Utility Service Loan Application to deploy Fiber to the Home (FTTH) in the five (5) exchanges in which we provide service.
In 2009, RUS approved the $37.8 million dollar loan and C.R.S.T. Telephone Authority began its extensive Fiber to the Home construction in the Eagle Butte exchange in 2010. The RUS FTTH loan project was completed in December 2016. We now have approximately 1,500 miles of fiber optics throughout the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.
Today: Looking Forward
C.R.S.T. Telephone Authority’s fiber optic network will play an important role in economic development on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation as the Tribe looks for opportunities to bring more jobs here.
C.R.S.T. Telephone celebrated 60 years of business in 2018 and we look forward to continuing our success into the next 60 years and beyond.