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Minnesota Gets Giant-Sized Gigabit Rollout

Jason Meyers
9/19/2014

Minnesota co-op Paul Bunyan Communications has committed to one of the most geographically sprawling gigabit network deployments to date, vowing to cover a whopping 5,000 square miles of its Northern Minnesota territory with gigabit services over the next four years.

The project will create what the carrier is calling the GigaZone, providing the option for connectivity at gigabit speeds to customers in portions of the counties of Beltrami, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching and St. Louis -- a region that encompasses a large number of rural areas.

"What makes it unique is where it's happening, and the scale," Gary Johnson, CEO and general manager of Paul Bunyan Communications , tells Light Reading. "It's one thing to serve a densely populated urban neighborhood, and another to deploy in largely rural areas."


Get the latest updates on the Gigabit Cities trend by visiting Light Reading's broadband/FTTx content channel.


Paul Bunyan started building its fiber network in 2004 and has invested $150 million in its network to date with another $25 million planned, Johnson says. It has deployed fiber-to-the-home across 99% of its territory, he says, which makes it economically feasible to make the upgrade to gigabit speeds at this point. "Because we've been doing it for more than a decade, we can announce that the whole region can go gigabit," he says. "If we were starting today I don't know how we'd pay for it."

The carrier's deployment plans offer more evidence of how ubiquitous gigabit networks are becoming, expanding far beyond urban cores and major operators to include smaller rural areas and a broad range of providers. Municipalities themselves are now voicing their desire to become gigabit cities in an attempt to attract operator investment or entities interested in public/private partnerships. (See Connecticut Cities Crowdsource Gigabit Nets.)

Paul Bunyan is a member-owned co-op that was founded in 1950, and that identity still guides its strategic decisions in a gigabit era.

"Your singular focus as a co-op is delivering the services you think your members need," Johnson says. "We were formed by farmers who needed a phone line, and that DNA is still there."

Since profit is not a main motivator for the co-op, Paul Bunyan can also keep pricing reasonable, Johnson says. A full gigabit data line will be $100 per month, with lower-speed packages priced lower and additional services like digital voice, WiFi and TV available à la carte. "It doesn't do you any good to offer gigabit speed services if you price it so no one can afford it," he says.

Economic development is also a factor in the communities Paul Bunyan serves, Johnson says. Several local government and business figures turned out for a ribbon cutting ceremony yesterday to discuss aspects like job creation and advanced services that could be available in sectors like healthcare, he says.

"It's not just about faster Internet," Johnson says. "This means something far more than people being able to download a video faster."

— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Utility Communications/IoT, Light Reading

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