1 T H E P O W E R O F P O S S I B I L I T Y AtdinnertimeontheNorthDakotaprairie,sunsetbloomsacrossthebigsky,castingapinkand orange glow through the clouds and on the grassy hills and waves of grain. Farmers returning from the fields and workers commuting home are settling in for the evening. They open and close the refrigerator, turn on the oven, switch on lights, check their email. Televisions flicker through their living room windows. PowertothePeople Imperceptibly, in some homes, the water heater shuts off to save energy and the heat pump cycles to a different setting. Early evening is a peak time of power usage, and Verendrye Electric Cooperative in Velva, North Dakota, discounts its charges to customers who allow certain appliances to be cycled off remotely. By lowering the peak, Verendrye creates a more efficient electric grid — which prevents overloaded transformers and delays the need for expensive upgrades or additional power plants. Keeping the lights on and the world connected is a lot more complicated today than it was when power and telephone lines first stretched across North Dakota and other vast reaches of rural America. But at the same time, every- thing is more seamless and efficient, thanks to a half-century of technological advances. Our modern conveniences evolved from decades of innovation, but no one guaranteed the benefits would be spread equally. In the early days of computing, rural cooper- atives found a way to stay on the front edge of the information age by pooling their resources. Verendrye was one of four forward-thinking electric and telephone cooperatives that pioneered the first regional data processing center in 1966, which became North Central Data Cooperative in 1968. In 1967, a dozen electric cooperatives formed another regional CHAPTER ONE