Fiber installation begins on Iowa and Minnesota projects
Cresco, IA | Rushford, MN (1:30 p.m. Aug. 17, 2022)— MiEnergy Cooperative’s partnerships with two local telephone cooperatives have been making regional media headlines the last couple weeks as construction has begun on three fiber projects.
Harmony Telephone Company announced in July that it was breaking ground on installing fiber as part of a $9.7 million USDA ReConnect Program grant-loan it received in 2020. The project will connect 538 locations with high-speed broadband internet in Howard and Chickasaw counties in Iowa.
At the same time, MiBroadband announced contractors started digging in fiber as part of the $1.1 million grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Border-to-Border grant. MiBroadband is using the grant and $2.1 million local match to serve 257 locations in the rural areas of southern Fillmore County in Minnesota.
This week residents of the City of Harmony in Minnesota were told that Harmony Telephone is investing $2.5 million to provide fiber to just over 500 city residents with construction to begin yet this month.
“Having access to fiber changes the lives of people. Employees can work from home, it enhances learning for students and it allows local rural businesses to thrive,” explained Brian Krambeer, president/CEO of MiEnergy and board chair of both Harmony Telephone Company and MiBroadband.
In 2018, MiEnergy bought into Harmony Telephone, which had been owned by Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company and Spring Grove Communications. At the same time, those three partners created MiBroadband.
“When we formed these partnerships, we knew getting broadband in rural areas was important. MiEnergy members were looking to us, a rural business leader, to help bring broadband to their homes, farms and businesses. They had few to no options available for fast, reliable service,” said Krambeer. “Then COVID happened, and broadband became exponentially more crucial to keeping everyone connected to work, school and family.”
Since then, Harmony Telephone and MiBroadband have been able to take advantage of opportunities for grants and loans available through state and federal agencies, that were not available pre-COVID.
“Funding is crucial to getting fiber to rural citizens faster. This infrastructure is expensive when you have about three to four members per mile of fiber,” Krambeer said.
And fiber to the premise, is just the first step.
According to Harmony Telephone and MiBroadband CEO Jill Huffman, her customer service team will play a huge role in helping subscribers setup wireless networks to allow for telecommuting, real-time video monitoring of property and equipment, and viewing of streaming services.
“We don’t just put the fiber in the ground and leave. As a company owned by three cooperatives, customer service is our top priority,” Huffman said.