Fiber optics mean the world to Sioux Falls companies

South Dakota State Roundup

Published October 1, 1993  | October 1993 issue

The telecommunications technology required for a number of credit card processing centers in Sioux Falls has created fertile ground for another business.

TCI Communications Inc. in Sioux Falls began three years ago as a telephone operator service company, providing calling card operator and billing services to institutions and their customers in South Dakota and surrounding states.

More recently, TCI has added an operator service for the issuer of an international telephone calling card. The issuer's card holders, largely executives, punch in their calling card code anywhere and an English- speaking TCI operator in Sioux Falls completes the call and handles the billing. For example, a call from Oslo to London will come through an operator in Sioux Falls. Jeff Parker, TCI's vice president of finance, adds that sometimes convenience is not the only benefit. "It's cheaper to call England from Japan through Sioux Falls than it is to call England direct from Japan."

The company's 50 operators serve callers in 60 foreign countries. "We have more operators than the local telephone company," Parker says.

"The international market is growing much more rapidly" than expected, Parker says. TCI has identified 1.8 million residential telephone customers who regularly make international calls from their homes through the regional telephone system that encompasses Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Indiana. "The numbers in terms of potential [business] are astronomical," Parker says. And the technology seems to hold few limits: "One pair of glass fibers can handle thousands of calls at once," says Paul Swanberg, TCI's president.

"A lot of what's happening here is in support of the credit card industry," Parker says. Because of the growing credit card operations industry, all the major long-distance companies have a significant presence in Sioux Falls and have interconnected facilities.

And the credit card processing operations may also take on some international business—Citicorp is talking about moving its European credit card processing operations from Germany to South Dakota in 1995.

"It used to be the telephone company was important because it provided jobs, now it provides the infrastructure that makes other jobs possible," says Linda Laskowski, vice president-South Dakota for U.S. West Communications in Sioux Falls.

Kathy Cobb