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WCTA announces intent to bring services into all of Albert Lea

Winnebago Cooperative Telecom Association has plans to expand fiber optic technology into all of Albert Lea, the cooperative’s CEO said Monday night in a presentation to the Albert Lea City Council. 

Mark Thoma, who has worked for the company for 26 years, said the cooperative is looking to offer telephone, long distance, broadband internet and digital TV services to Albert Lea residents and would be willing to sign a franchise agreement with the city to do so. 

The city has had only one franchise agreement in place for TV services for many years with Charter Communications, and a second provider would bring more competition to the area. 

City Manager Ian Rigg said the work will require permitting and an agreement with staff as the cooperative works in the right-of-way. 

“I think we all enjoy competition in our community and know that it’s important to see these types of opportunities come to our community to make sure all of our residents have the best service that is possible,” Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen said. 

He thanked Thoma, on behalf of the council, for the cooperative’s investment in the community. 

WCTA, which is based out of Lake Mills, has been in operation for over 70 years and serves 28 communities in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. Thoma said because WCTA is a cooperative, it is member-owned and issues dividends back to its members. The cooperative last year paid out $2 million in dividends. 

Thoma said WCTA already provides some services within the city, including in an industrial park and on some edges, but it is committed to all of Albert Lea as long as residents utilize the services. If services are taken to every household in the city, the investment would total $30 million, he said. 

“We look forward to serve Albert Lea and just being a part of the community as well,” he said. “We don’t just come in looking for an investment. We like to give back and be a part, including with economic development.”

He noted the value of fiber internet for economic development and employee recruitment and retention, and he hoped it could help Albert Lea grow. 

He said the cooperative looked to start the backbone fiber work for the whole city this year, along with end user buildout near City Arena. Crews bury lines whenever possible to avoid outages that can come along with weather and other concerns. 

After that, it will move into neighborhoods as demand picks up. 

The accelerated growth will be based on use of service, he said, and there could be more opportunities for additional employees and even potentially extra office and shop space.

“We’re committed, and we’re ready,” Thoma said.