Cooperatives to bring broadband to underserved rural areas
Harmony, Minn. (12:30 p.m. July 24, 2018) – Three local cooperatives announced their intent to create a company, MiBroadband, to serve fixed wireless broadband to areas of Southeast Minnesota and Northeast Iowa.
At a media event Tuesday, July 24, Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company, MiEnergy Cooperative and Spring Grove Communications revealed they are in the early stages of making high-speed internet a reality for underserved rural areas.
“In many cases, rural is defined as less than three or four subscribers per mile of fiber. Low density makes it more difficult to plow fiber to rural areas. Yet, everyone is deserving of having access to quality broadband service,” stated Jill Fishbaugher, manager of Spring Grove Communications and Harmony Telephone Company. “This partnership allows us to continue to explore the buildout of fiber in Harmony, while creating additional opportunities to serve new subscribers.
Brian Krambeer, president/CEO of MiEnergy Cooperative, spoke on the directive given by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) this spring at a national electric cooperative visit to Washington, D.C.
“USDA instructed electric cooperatives to roll out broadband to rural areas like we did electricity in the 1930s,” Krambeer explained. “Following that event, MiEnergy created an ad hoc subcommittee of our board directors to work with management to investigate opportunities and partnerships. The result is why we are here today.”
Julie Kolka, manager of Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company, reminded attendees of the significance of the announcement.
“This partnership will create life-changing moments for rural members that have not had access to broadband at their home, farm or business,” Kolka said. “By signing the letter of intent to form this partnership we are emulating the Sixth Cooperative Principle, Cooperation Among Cooperatives, to deliver broadband to enhance the quality of life for rural residents.”
MiEnergy Cooperative built a broadband network to communicate between its Rushford and Cresco offices and to communicate and automate its substation equipment throughout its electric service territory. That same equipment will serve as the backbone for the wireless broadband network.
Fixed wireless broadband works in a similar fashion to cell phone communication with towers carrying a signal. Customers of fixed wireless broadband will have a radio at a fixed location (home, farm or business) that will communicate to an antenna on a nearby tower. Customers will need a line of site to the tower which can send a signal approximately five to seven miles.
While MiBroadband did not discuss broadband speeds, the goal of the new company will be to achieve and exceed state and federal broadband speed requirements.
The cooperatives plan to launch MiBroadband in late fall/early winter. Following the launch, the cooperatives will rollout service to the Cresco and Rushford areas first. Announcements will be made later for future rollout areas.
The cooperatives also revealed MiEnergy Cooperative partnered with Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company and Spring Grove Communications to become an owner of Harmony Telephone Company. Harmony Telephone Company was purchased in 2006 by Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company and Spring Grove Communications. MiBroadband will reside at the Harmony Telephone Company office.
Harmony Telephone Company is a privately-held company in Harmony, Minn. It was purchased in 2006 by Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company and Spring Grove Communications. It provides broadband and telephone service to Harmony and the surrounding rural area, as well as, cable TV service in Harmony. Ownership by cooperatives means providing quality service remains a top priority.
Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company is a member-owned cooperative located in Mabel, Minn. Formed in 1961, the cooperative serves five prefixes with over 1,500 subscribers in Mabel and Prosper, Minn. and Hesper, Burr Oak and Ridgeway, Iowa. Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company continues to build out its fiber network to improve local broadband and telephone service, while keeping with its tradition of providing excellent member service.
MiEnergy Cooperative is a member-owned electric distribution cooperative and is the result of a merger between Hawkeye REC, of Cresco, Iowa and Tri-County Electric Cooperative, of Rushford, Minn. in 2017. It maintains 5,500 miles of power lines covering most of Fillmore, Houston and Winona counties in Minnesota and Chickasaw, Howard and Winneshiek counties in Iowa. The cooperative also serves small pockets bordering those counties. It provides electricity to more than 18,700 members in northeastern Iowa and southeastern Minnesota. MiEnergy is a Touchstone Energy Cooperative.
Spring Grove Communications is a member-owned cooperative located in Spring Grove, Minnesota. Formed in 1959, the cooperative serves 100-square miles of southeastern Minnesota along the Iowa border and includes a small area of northeastern Iowa. It extends a 100-percent fiber network that provides local broadband, cable TV and telephone service. Spring Grove Communications strives to stay at the forefront of emerging technologies, while providing high-quality service to members.