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Harmony Telephone Company bringing fiber internet to Harmony amid federal, state push for broadband expansion

Construction for the $2.5 million project is slated to start next week, and some Harmony residents could have access to high-speed internet by the end of the year.

harmony telephone
Representatives from the city of Harmony, MiEnergy, Harmony Telephone Company and other stakeholders pose for a group photo celebrating the start of a $2.5 million fiber internet expansion project for Harmony residents on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022.
Dené K. Dryden / Post Bulletin
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HARMONY, Minn. — On Monday, Harmony Telephone Company announced that construction will begin next week on its $2.5 million fiber installation in the city of Harmony. The company-funded project builds upon the federal and statewide push for expanded access to broadband internet, especially in rural areas.

“Fiber is a game-changer,” HTC CEO Jill Huffman said at Monday’s announcement ceremony in Selvig Park. “My team is extremely excited to provide this reliable internet service as well as help subscribers set up wireless networks to allow for things such as telecommuting, real-time video monitoring of property and equipment and the viewing of streaming services.”

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Because installing fiber cables is dependent on weather conditions and ground temperature, Huffman said it’s hard to pinpoint when construction will wrap up, but she hopes HTC will start connecting some customers to the service by late fall or early winter.

Broadband internet is relatively accessible in many southeast Minnesota counties. Diane Wells, deputy director of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Office of Broadband Development, Olmsted County currently has 84% broadband coverage, while Winona County is at 76% and Freeborn County is at 72% coverage.

“That’s due to some of the providers like MiBroadband, AcenTek, HBC … that I know are doing a good job of deploying service down there,” Wells said.

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Minnesota Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, also spoke to local companies’ initiative to expand their broadband offerings in his district.

“MiEnergy and Harmony Telephone and AcenTek have been very aggressive, and we actually have done quite some work in getting this broadband in to people,” Davids said.

However, Fillmore County has some catching up to do.

“Fillmore is only at about 33%,” Wells said of the county’s broadband coverage. “Fillmore and Mower: They’re the two that stand out in that southeast corner that are behind the other counties in the state. But we’ll get there.”

harmony telephone
Brian Krambeer, the president and CEO of MiEnergy, and Jill Huffman, the CEO of Harmony Telephone Company, pose at a ceremony celebrating the start of a $2.5 million fiber internet expansion project for Harmony residents on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022.
Dené K. Dryden / Post Bulletin

And there’s great interest in getting there — Wells said her office will soon distribute $95 million in combined state and American Rescue Plan Act funding to finance broadband expansion projects, and through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Minnesota will receive at least $100 million to put toward broadband access.

“While the state of Minnesota, the Legislature and the governors have been emphasizing deployment of broadband since 2014, when they began funding our Border-to-Border Grant program just in the last year, we are seeing a tremendous infusion of federal funding for broadband through the American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” Wells said.

Though the Harmony fiber project is not funded with state or federal dollars, Huffman said public-private partnerships such as ARPA are helpful for developing broadband access in more rural parts of southeast Minnesota.

“It gets very costly to build into the true rural parts of the area,” she said. “That’s when those public-private partnerships really need to exist in order to expand the speed at which we can deploy broadband. Without those partnerships, that would be many, many years before we would be able to recoup enough investment to reinvest into those rural areas.”

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Davids said it’s his goal that the Minnesota Legislature doesn’t stop until everybody who wants broadband can access it.

“That’ll take, you know, continued funding through the state, which I’ve supported over the years, and hopefully we can come together after the election and put together something, too, because this happens to be a very bipartisan issue,” Davids said.

The goal: Meeting the state of Minnesota’s 2026 benchmark of having high-speed internet with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second available for every home and business. While broadband funding from the federal government will help make that goal possible, Wells said the 2026 goal may need to be pushed out a couple of years.

“The recognition by the federal government was kind of late and the dollars are rolling out a little bit slower than we would hope,” Wells said. “The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act dollars, we don’t actually expect to be able to push those out probably until the latter half of 2023 at the earliest.”

Dené K. Dryden is the Post Bulletin's region reporter, covering the greater Rochester area. Before joining the Post Bulletin in 2022, she attended Kansas State University and served as an editor for the student newspaper, the Kansas State Collegian, and news director for Wildcat 91.9, K-State's student radio station. Readers can reach Dené at ddryden@postbulletin.com.
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