HARMONY, Minn. (KTTC) — The USDA Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky announced today at a press conference that Harmony Telephone Company is the recipient of a “ReConnect Program” award totaling $5.4 million.
The award is equal parts grant money and loan money. Congress provided $600 million to the USDA in March 2018 to expand broadband services in rural America.
According to the USDA, residents in rural areas in Minnesota have a need for high-speed broadband services. They are presented with issues like slow internet and poor cell phone signals. This hinders their ability to keep up with the fast-moving technological environment.
The USDA said the ReConnect Program award will be used to construct a fiber-to-premises (FTTP) network to 577 households, a healthcare center and a critical community facility. It will spread over more than 143 miles in several counties bordering southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.
Harmony Telephone COO Jill Hoffman said improved broadband will help farmers better manage their farms by allowing them to use new technology like cameras that continuously monitor their land. It will allow more people in the area to work from home and it will help children and schools tap into technology that they don’t have currently have access to.
The area in Harmony and the surrounding areas reportedly proved to be a good candidate for the award due to the already existing infrastructure.
“We wanted to make sure the state had good electric cooperatives to partner with telephone companies. Minnesota and Iowa both have good laws on the books and don’t restrict that ability,” said Censky. “We cannot leave millions of out of the successes of this booming economy simply because they don’t have access to the internet.”
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