United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue announced Harmony Telephone Company as a recipient of a ReConnect Program award totaling $9.7 million.
“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now – as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency. Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband,” Perdue said. “I am so proud of our rural communities who have been working day in and day out, just like they always do, producing the food and fiber America depends on. We need them more than ever during these trying times, and expanding access to this critical infrastructure will help ensure rural America prospers for years to come.”
Harmony Telephone Company will use a $4.8 million ReConnect grant and a $4.8 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network, which will connect 1,579 people, 96 farms and 31 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Howard and Chickasaw counties in Iowa.
“While we have seen the disparities in the availability of high-speed broadband between rural and urban areas, the pandemic has really made it clear how critical broadband access is to people,” said Harmony Telephone Company COO Jill Huffman. “We are grateful for the support by our elected officials who have made investing in this infrastructure a priority.”
Huffman explained that providing broadband access in rural areas is challenging due to the expense of infrastructure.
“This award will provide opportunities to help households, farms and businesses thrive. Rural residents will have the broadband speed necessary for working and learning from home that their counterparts in urban areas have had,” Huffman explained.
Huffman described how broadband helps level the playing field for small business owners with their competitors by improving the ways they can connect with business partners, customers and suppliers. It allows telecommuting opportunities for rural residents and children to connect at similar internet speeds as their city classmates.
“Our team sees firsthand how our subscribers in rural areas respond to having broadband for the first time and that is what makes being a recipient of the ReConnect Program award so exciting to us at Harmony Telephone,” Huffman said.
Harmony Telephone has previously been a recipient of a ReConnect award. In January, it was awarded a $5.4 million grant-loan to connect 577 households with fiber within its exchange in rural Harmony. The project broke ground earlier this fall with cutovers to begin this winter and completion set for 2023.
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. In 2018, MiEnergy Cooperative bought into the company to become an additional owner. 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.
USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.