MiBroadband to Expand Internet Service for Fillmore County Residents

Commissioner Mitch Lentz, MiEnergy Chairman and CEO Brian Krambeer, MiBroadband CEO Jill Huffman, Representative Greg Davids and Preston Mayor Kurt Reicks.
Photo by Karen Reisner

A groundbreaking event was held on July 18 to announce two broadband projects, one in rural Fillmore County and the other in Howard/Chickasaw counties in Iowa.

MiBroadband received a $1.1 million grant in 2021 from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Border-to-Border Grant. The grant and local matching of $2.1 million will be used to upgrade internet service to 257 rural locations in rural Preston, southern Fillmore County.

Jill Huffman, CEO of MiBroadband and COO of Harmony Telephone Company, said a partnership between the state, county and city of Preston will bring fiber to rural Preston. Bringing fiber to rural areas is particularly expensive due to low population density. Utility construction contractor MP Nexlevel and Finley Engineering & Consulting will work to make broadband in this rural area a reality.

This map was prepared by Connected Nation under contract with the Minnesota Department of Jobs and Economic Development. The map depicts broadband service availability zones based on provider data submitted and analyzed by Connected Nation. This data is current as of December 31, 2021.
Image courtesy of mn.gov

Fiber will bring fast and reliable internet service. Huffman added that they “will provide local customer service to help set up wireless networks that enable telecommuting, real-time video monitoring of assets and equipment, and viewing of streaming services.” Many people in rural Preston currently have limited service options. The availability of enhanced service (1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload speeds over a fiber network) will benefit residents, farmers and businesses in this region. Construction is due to be completed this year.

Huffman reported that construction had also begun in rural Howard County, Iowa. A federal USDA ReConnect program grant/loan totaling $9.7 million (50% grant and 50% loan) was awarded to Harmony Telephone in fall 2020. This funding will be used to connect 538 high-speed broadband sites in Howard and Chickasaw counties. . This construction should be completed this year.

Minnesota Border to border program

The Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was created by the Legislature in 2014. This program provides a financial resource to assist telecommunications providers with their investment in building broadband infrastructure in underserved areas or not serviced by the state.

The program recently received a boost when it was announced that the US Treasury had authorized the use of $68.4 million in federal funds to support and expand Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Grant Program. This funding will prioritize building broadband infrastructure in rural areas. Grants can cover up to 50% of construction costs in rural areas. Tens of thousands of rural Minnesota residents still do not have high-speed Internet access.

MiEnergy President and CEO Brian Krambeer, Iowa State Rep. Mike Bergan (Dorchester), Minnesota State Rep. Greg Davids (Preston), and MiBroadband CEO , Jill Huffman, stand in front of banners advertising grants that will help bring broadband to more rural areas.
Photo by Karen Reisner

Additional federal funding ($100 million) will be available for each state to build broadband infrastructure. The funds are part of the funding for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress last year.

There are still significant needs in Fillmore County for residents and businesses. Huffman said it can cost up to $5,000 per household in low-density areas for fiber infrastructure. The return on investment for suppliers is very long term. The northern and western portions of Fillmore County have limited household density.

Fixed wireless provides good service in some parts of the county, but is limited by hills and trees.

Suppliers continually strive to secure federal, state, and local funding to expand projects.

Fillmore County in 2022

DEED reports that 64.85% of Fillmore County residents have the availability of at least 100 Mbps download/20 Mbps upload speed.

According to a 2022 provider service inventory from DEED, much of eastern Fillmore County (including the towns of Lanesboro, Rushford, Mabel and Harmony and surrounding rural areas) has wireline broadband service. at least 100M/20M.

The western two-thirds of Fillmore County still has large rural areas that are considered unserved (no wireline broadband). Exceptions include the towns of Chatfield, Fountain, Preston and Spring Valley which have good service.

Underserved areas include the towns of Ostrander and Wykoff and areas surrounding those towns, the area around Peterson to the Winona county line and south of Peterson, and the area north and east of Guangzhou.

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