KARLSTAD, Minn. – The Wikstrom Telephone Company, based in Karlstad, Minnesota, celebrates 75 years in a rapidly changing and transformative industry.
The family business, which provides telephone, television and Internet services to towns in northwestern Minnesota, was started in 1947 by George Wikstrom Sr. Today, his son Curtiss Wikstrom is president and general manager. of the widely known Wikstrom Telephone Company. like Wiktel, and is proud of the service his family provides in the region.
“You can’t go anywhere and get better service than what we have,” Curtiss said.
Before founding Wiktel, George Wikstrom senior was a farmer. In 1946, George and his wife, Dolores, purchased the Northwestern Minnesota Telephone Company for $4,500. They took ownership of the company on January 1, 1947, renaming it the Wikstrom Telephone Company. At the time, the company had 285 subscribers. Today, the company has approximately 9,200 customers.
Curtiss was only 3 years old when his family bought Wiktel. He had three siblings, aged 3 months to 9 years at the time, and another brother was born in 1948 and another sister in 1951. All of the children were involved in the family business from the start, a said Curtiss, climbing the telephone poles and operating the switchboard. Most of his siblings still sit on the company’s board of directors.
Since 1947, telephone technology has evolved from carrier-controlled switchboards, to digital telephones, to today’s Internet Protocol telephony, which relies on broadband Internet.
“I’ve lived through most of the technical advancements in the world – in the millions of years he’s been here, I’ve lived through most of it,” Curtiss said. “This is especially true of the telephone.”
To keep up with the evolution of technology, Wiktel has evolved. In the early 1970s, all of the company’s telephone lines switched to dial-up service. In the decades that followed, the company began installing fiber optic cables for the Internet.
Although customers can still get phone and TV services through Wiktel, the bulk of the company’s business is high-speed internet.
“It’s more important than phones, but we still have phones and we’re still operating to try to keep our service available across the region,” Curtiss said.
According to Curtiss, this summer most Wiktel customers will be connected to high-speed Internet via fiber optic cables. Carrie Taggart, Wiktel’s Office Manager, says this achievement is the result of the Wikstrom family’s dedication to customers.
“A lot of what Wikstrom has done hasn’t been because they had to – it’s because they wanted to, even the fiber in the homes of all our small towns,” he said. she stated. “It was not something the FCC provided assistance for or anything like that. They just knew that was what they wanted to see.
Wiktel also provides mobile communications companies with a data backbone. Taggart said companies like AT&T and Verizon used to lease cell towers, but now rely more on Wikstrom’s fiber technology to deliver services to the region.
Wiktel’s service area extends from East Grand Forks to Angle Inlet in the Northwest Angle. In this range, there are four main systems that operate independently of each other. That way, if the lines fell in Karlstad, people from Roseau could still call each other. Curtiss says the local, decentralized system will maintain emergency communications in northwest Minnesota, even in the event of a disaster.
“Our philosophy is to keep making sure everyone in our area can call each other, even if the world goes crazy. And it can get crazy,” he said.
Curtiss served in the Air Force in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He and his brother Neil, who was in the military, both served in Vietnam. His experiences in the Air Force have made him aware of the threat of nuclear war, and he has been particularly wary since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
“When I was in the Air Force, I actually rode nuclear weapons,” he said. “I mean, I was minutes away from dropping bombs elsewhere in the world, and it has since receded. It went down from that, and now it’s coming back. »
He says that in the event of a nuclear war, the decentralization and redundancy of Wiktel’s network would allow emergency communications to continue in the region.
Having seen first-hand the advances in communications technology over the past 75 years, Curtiss expects technology to continue to evolve in the future. He is optimistic that technology will change the way people live for the better. Already, he notes that the ability to work, go to the doctor and go to school via the Internet has reduced the need to travel, which he says could help save energy and reduce the costs to people.
“Until we have excessive government regulation and control, and let people be free to innovate and make things work, the world won’t stop,” he said. “It’s going to get better if we leave it alone and let people free.”
Wiktel plans to officially celebrate its 75th anniversary at Karlstad’s annual Moosefest, this year August 12-14, with an open house.