More than 50 people attended the announcement at the Harmony Telephone Company to create MiBroadband, a new company to bring fixed wireless broadband to areas of Southeast Minnesota and Northeast Iowa. At the event on 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.
“This partnership will create life-changing moments for rural members that have not had access to broadband at their home, farm or business,” said Julie Kolka, manager of Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company.
“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.
MiEnergy Cooperative built a broadband network to communicate between its Rushford and Cresco offices and to communicate and automate its substation equipment in its electric service territory. The same equipment will serve as the backbone for the fixed wireless broadband network.
Fixed wireless broadband works rather like cell phone communication, with towers carrying a signal. Fixed wireless broadband customers will have a radio at a fixed location that will communicate to an antenna on a nearby tower. Customers will need a line of site to the tower, in order to send signals roughly five to seven miles.
While MiBroadband did not discuss broadband speeds, the goal of the new company is to meet and exceed state and federal broadband speed requirements.
Brad Finstad, State Director for Rural Development in Minnesota, said, “This will help keep and bring young people to rural areas. Connecting to high-speed internet can help schools, businesses, residents, job creation and bring prosperity. I live in rural Minnesota with my family and this is good for us and for generations to come.”
Brian Krambeer, President/CEO of MiEnergy Cooperative, spoke on the directive given by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). “The USDA instructed electric cooperatives to roll out broadband to rural areas like we did electricity in the 1930s,” Krambeer said. “Following that directive, 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.”
The cooperatives also announced that MiEnergy Cooperative partnered with Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company and Spring Grove Communications to become an owner of Harmony Telephone Company.
Harmony Telephone Company is a privately-held company in Harmony, 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.
Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company is a member-owned cooperative formed in 1961, although its roots began in 1906. The cooperative serves 1,500 subscribers in Mabel and Prosper, Minn., and Hesper, Burr Oak and Ridgeway, Iowa.
MiEnergy Cooperative is a member-owned electric distribution cooperative, the result of a 2017 merger between Hawkeye REC of Cresco and Tri-County Electric Cooperative of Rushford. It maintains 5,500 miles of power lines covering most of Fillmore, Houston and Winona counties and Chickasaw, Howard and Winneshiek counties in Iowa. 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 in Spring Grove. Formed in 1959, the cooperative serves 100 square miles of southeastern Minnesota along the Iowa border, including a small area of northeastern Iowa. It extends a 100% fiber network that provides local broadband, cable TV and telephone service.
MiBroadband will operate out of the Harmony Telephone Company’s offices and plans to launch 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.