Efforts to improve fiber optic services in a portion of KMAland were celebrated in Stanton Thursday afternoon.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue joined Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds in announcing federal funding awarded to Farmers Mutual Telephone Company. More than $6.4 million in grant and loan funding is going to the Stanton-based company through the USDA’s ReConnect program. With the money in place, FMTC plans to expand broadband services through 214 square miles in Montgomery County and surrounding areas, serving 1,100 customers. Perdue says FMTC, coupled with funding allocated by Congress, is a partnership designed to benefit southwest Iowa communications.
“It makes a big difference in today’s world whether you’re connected or not,” said Perdue. “You know that, and we know that. We’ve talked about some of the benefits–telemedicine, e-commerce, connecting to the world way out there, being able to provide and design things that can be sold across the world through the beauty of e-commerce.”
“Why should kids in rural areas have to drive into somewhere in town into a parking lot to do their homework today?” he said. “Anybody use Google in here? You can’t do that without connectivity, right? And, you know how important that is.”
Perdue says rural broadband expansion is necessary in order for small communities to grow.
“It literally is not a luxury any longer, but a necessity,” said Perdue, “if communities want to grown, and thrive, and have economic development in that way. As a community, your vision and hopefulness, and optimism helps to drive that. Don’t settle for less–you ought to be entitled to the things this company through its partnership is providing.”
Reynolds lauded FMTC for the company’s “innovative, can-do attitude” in connecting the region. The governor says positioning Iowa to lead and thrive in the “information economy” is one of her administration’s goals.
“From being able to connect our students in the classrooms to cutting edge careers,” said Reynolds, “to farmers checking crop conditions and precision farming, to small businesses processing credit card payments, to being able to sell our products abroad, connectivity is the expectation, no matter where you live. And, that’s really why today’s announcement is so important.”
Kevin Cabbage is FMTC’s general manager and CEO. Cabbage says his company’s goal is 100% fiber optic coverage for Montgomery County.
“To the rural Red Oak residents–congratulations,” said Cabbage. “You’re about to become part of the FMTC family and the FMTC team. We look forward to serving you with the communications network that you desperately need to be successful, and be innovative as you live and work. And, this will change how you live and work. So, we’re excited about this opportunity. We’re very grateful for this funding opportunity.”
Cabbage says expanding broadband to territory beyond its existing coverage area involves laying 185 miles of fiber optic cable. Federal regulations require the company to have its project completed in five years. Cabbage, however, says FMTC plans to have it completed in two. The money awarded the company was part of round 1 of the ReConnect funding process, made possible through $600 million awarded to the USDA by Congress in 2018. Cabbage says his company will apply for additional dollars in round 2, which runs through January 31st through March 16th.