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Building Better Broadband: Business Internet that Works in Small Town America

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By Erin Hayes
Director of Central Construction

Lake life is an idyllic fantasy for many of us – catching dinner off the dock, lazy evenings on the pontoon, and then drifting off to sleep at night, lulled by a chorus of bullfrogs and loons. For some people, however, it’s a reality – and most of them aren’t running summer camps. They need business internet that can keep up with the demands of daily commerce.

The expansion of rural broadband infrastructure means businesses can thrive where connectivity was once a bad gamble. As Midco’s Director of Central Construction, I help people realize their dreams of living a connected life on their terms.

Connecting Lake Country

One particularly gratifying example comes from Annandale, MN, a community of 3,300 located an hour northwest of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. The saying in Annandale goes that there are “26 lakes within a 10-mile radius,” and as a result, the population swells to roughly 20,000 in the summertime.

Marty Ferguson, owner of construction supplier FS3, is a full-time Annandale resident and long-time industry acquaintance of mine. Long before Midco brought high-speed broadband there, Marty and his neighbors were vocal about their frustrations with their internet options.

“Prior to Midco moving into Annandale, there were times our telephone line and/or our internet service would be down for two days at a time,” Ferguson recalled. “The fastest internet speeds we could get – if we were lucky – were 12 Mbps. Then when school got out at 3 pm, we could watch our internet speeds drop drastically. Doing credit card transactions sometimes was nearly impossible.”

The problem with building broadband infrastructure into small and rural communities is that the costs can be prohibitive. The Minnesota Broadband Grant program has helped tremendously in connecting many communities, but Annandale was not initially one of them. That meant each summer at the FS3 golf tournament, I had the same conversation with Ferguson and his neighbors – without reliable, fast internet, they simply couldn’t compete in the marketplace. 

These community members made a big impact on me and my team. They were sending a clear message – they wanted to do business in their hometown, but they needed someone to come in and help. We saw it as an opportunity to make a genuine investment in a community, and after a lot of legwork, Midco launched services in Annandale during the summer of 2016.

“Since Midco moved in to Annandale, I don’t know how many businesses have switched over, but I know it’s a large percentage,” said Ferguson. “We talked to a lot of the other people in town. It’s a small town – even if I didn’t talk to people, you hear from other people what people are thinking – and it’s been a really good thing.”

There were a few key factors that made Midco’s initial Annandale build possible:

Vocal Community Members: Without people like Ferguson and his neighbors drawing attention to a genuine need, it’s possible that this town would have been overlooked.

Community Engagement: City officials, including the mayor and city administrator, were big supporters of the project from the get-go. After we’d done our initial legwork and presented our plans, citizens stayed engaged throughout the construction process.

Big-Picture Thinking: Without state grant money available, Midco fully shouldered the cost of the Annandale build. While this would have made the project an automatic no-go for many companies, Midco leadership saw the potential in Annandale. This was a community that desperately needed reliable business internet, and that meant we had a lot of potential customers. It was an investment that proved worthwhile for Midco.

Continued Expansion in Annandale

Annandale was a well-calculated risk. We saw a need, did the hard work and were rewarded with a new community full of valued customers. We now have over 50% customer penetration in Annandale – and in 2018, we’re continuing to expand our fiber network into the western part of town (this time with some financial support from the Minnesota Broadband Grant program). Everybody deserves to live as connected as they want to be, wherever they want to live and do business, and I look forward to helping facilitate that for other communities within the Midco footprint.

Reliable High-Speed Internet

With Midco, you get more than a high-speed internet connection. We also provide around-the-clock support and service level commitments. You can count on Midco to be responsive to your needs.

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About Erin Hayes

Erin Hayes

Erin Hayes directs and manages the technology construction group at Midco, which provides new infrastructure to new franchises and communities. She joined Midco in 1993, and has held a series of complex and increasingly demanding management positions. She has championed the company’s award-winning GIS strategy, created the Target Zero construction safety program, and designed and built a state-of-the-art, fiber-deep system architecture. Hayes commits time to the industry and to the community by serving on the South Dakota One Call Board, Junior Achievement, the American Cancer Society, the Society for Telecommunications Engineers and Women in Cable Telecommunications. 

About Erin Hayes

Erin Hayes

Erin Hayes directs and manages the technology construction group at Midco, which provides new infrastructure to new franchises and communities. She joined Midco in 1993, and has held a series of complex and increasingly demanding management positions. She has championed the company’s award-winning GIS strategy, created the Target Zero construction safety program, and designed and built a state-of-the-art, fiber-deep system architecture. Hayes commits time to the industry and to the community by serving on the South Dakota One Call Board, Junior Achievement, the American Cancer Society, the Society for Telecommunications Engineers and Women in Cable Telecommunications. 

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