The northern half of Minnesota, despite its rural character, is rapidly improving in high quality Internet access. Paul Bunyan Communications, the cooperative serving much of the Bemijdi area, began work on its GigaZone network last fall and the network is snaking its way across the region. According to an April 20th press release from the cooperative, GigaZone is now available to 500 more locations from the rural areas near Lake George to Itasca State Park. This brings the number of customers with access to GigaZone to 5,000.
Rates for symmetrical Internet access range from $44.95 per month for 20 Mbps to $74.95 per month for 50 Mbps. Higher speeds are available, including gigabit Internet access, but the cooperative asks potential customers to call for pricing.
We first reported on Paul Bunyan Telephone Communications in 2009. The cooperative began expanding its existing fiber network in 2007 but gigabit connectivity did not become available to members until earlier this year. Upgrades began in Bemidji and will continue to include the cooperatives entire 5,000 square mile service area. As new lines are installed, older lines will also be upgraded to fiber to transform the entire network.
The cooperative began offering Internet access in 1996 as Paul Bunyan Telephone. Three years later, Paul Bunyan began infrastructure upgrades that allowed it to offer phone, high-speed Internet access, and digital television. The network expanded incrementally and continued to implement technological improvements. In 2005, the cooperative expanded with fiber technology for the first time. In 2010, Paul Bunyan Telephone changed its name to Paul Bunyan Communications.
At an event to announce GigaZone last fall, leadership from the region's economic development commission noted the new unleashed potential:
Greater Bemidji Director Dave Hengel compared Paul Bunyan to pioneering software giant Apple.
“In many, many ways, Paul Bunyan Communications has become the Apple of greater Bemidji and the region, he said. “They are always on the leading edge.”
The GigaZone network will help attract businesses and workers to the area, Hengel added.
“In fact, I happen to believe that after today, our greatest competitive advantage in the greater Bemidji region will be our broadband network, thanks in very large part to the work of Paul Bunyan,” he said.
Northern Minnesotans in Lake County and Cook County are also in the midst of FTTH projects. You can read more about those projects in our 2014 report All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.