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>>> company strongly in its local market. While the population of Lonsdale is just under 2,000, Lonsdale has 1,650 customers who are also neighbors and friends. Whereas Charter, Qwest and DirecTV’s size and ubiquity are sometimes a plus, critics say they are too big to treat their customers with singular care. Complaints of circular menus leading nowhere and leaving customers alienated are legion. Their emphasis on volume and saturation strategies seemingly leaves many falling through the cracks in unserved pockets. Many potential rural customers are out of range or otherwise ineligible for service, too. And at the rate communications technologies have turned on a dime, large companies with much invested in inventory and infrastructure are often too slow — or too conservative — to respond quickly enough to capitalize on them. On the cutting edge Tiny Lonsdale Telephone, on the other hand, has been almost prescient in its ability to foresee trends that could benefit its customers and preemptively strike to preserve its niche. The most recent case in point would be the coup that enabled Lonsdale Telephone to wire Lonsdale’s new housing developments with fiber instead of copper cable, enabling them to offer their Triple Play Pack, an economical bundle of Internet, telephone and TV. In 1936, when Frank and Emily Novak, Simon’s grandparents, married and bought Lonsdale Telephone from Webster Farmers Cooperative Telephone Company, Lonsdale was a farm community of about 300 people. Since 2000, the population has mushroomed as new housing developments proliferated. Lonsdale Telephone’s engineering firm, Communications Network Engineers, advised them to invest in

Owner/manager Bonnie Simon sits at the old switchboard that her mother used in their home when Bonnie was a little girl.

A real family affair

T

he Lonsdale Telephone Company has been a family affair for the Novaks for nearly 70 years and seems poised to remain that way. The company was founded when Frank and Emily Novak, parents of Robert and Marcella Novak, and grandparents of Bonnie Simon and Don Novak, bought the company from a farmers coop in 1936. Bonnie Simon and Don Novak are present and past general managers, respectively. Don has recently retired. Casey Gregor, Don’s grandson, is learning the ropes as an installer. Bill Klaras, who is Don’s son-in-law, is working his way up the ladder as an outside plant locator and installer. The company is located on the village Main Street, just half block south of its original site, which was in Robert and Marcella’s home. Don recalls that the telephone switchboard occupied the family’s living room, while they ran a small general store from the front of the home. Known both as good corporate citizens and friends of the community, the company has organized its schedule of services so that even the economically disadvantaged can get telephone services at a discount. Those wishing Internet services and TV can get all three at rates below the industry norm, according to Simon. — Azna A. Amira

The Lonsdale Telephone Company What: Telephone, Internet and cable TV provider for Lonsdale and environs Where: 126 Main Street S in Lonsdale Web site: lonsdaletel@means.com E-mail: lonsdaletel@means.net Phone: 507-744-2311 Owner/manager: Bonnie Simon Staff: Geralyn Sticha and Deb Wagner Technical staff: Matt Brennan, Roger Gagner, Bill Klaras, Casey Gregor getting the new homes wired with fiber.

“We decided to bite the bullet and get it installed,”

Simon said. “It was the newest technology out, and it cost a heap of money, but it paid off.” The new technology allows the company to offer TV via the Internet (Digital Internet Protocol Television) to rural householders who get only spotty service, or are otherwise overlooked by the larger service providers. From 2004 to the present, the company has seen sales steadily increase in its exchange area, which extends 7 miles in all directions from its downtown office. Though Simon downplays its influence, the family has also had the political clout to help turn dreams into reality: Simon’s father Robert Novak rose from village clerk to serve as mayor of Lonsdale for l6 years. Her brother Don, now retired, also served a lengthy stint on the city council, while serving as CEO of the telephone company. Don was the man most responsible for keeping Lonsdale Telephone on the technological cutting edge. Novak, by conferring with peer organizations in the Minnesota Telecom Alliance (an advisory association for the industry) or by heading south to a special industry-wide training center in Raleigh, N.C., kept his company so far out on the cutting edge that officials of Rice County have asked its assistance in updating its own telecommunication equipment. “It was kind of a one-man show,” said Novak, who admitted that it had its advantages, but came at a price. Novak said he handled everything from making deals (former city councilman) to stringing wire. “When you’re that small, you can maneuver more quickly — if you’re willing to put in a lot of long, hard hours. It’s a 24/7, 365 job.” Hard work has ever been the hallmark of the family as Novak — now a part-time farmer with his wife, Karen, and the family’s unofficial historian — can attest. >>>

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