Paul Bunyan Communications' GigaZone Keeps Growing

The mythical Paul Bunyan was enormous. Paul Bunyan Communications’ GigaZone appears to be following his example as it continues to expand throughout northern rural Minnesota. The cooperative recently announced that they are expanding the upgrade once again, bringing Gigabit per second (Gbps) capacity to their members via the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. This time, members in the communities of Kelliher and Northome will have access to the upgrade.

The Big Gig

The expansion brings gigabit network to more than 1,700 additional locations; this will bring Paul Bunyan’s GigaZone footprint to more than 29,400 locations. The network covers more than 5,000 square miles in Beltrami County and also reaches areas of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties.

In November 2016, the cooperative began offering service on the Red Lake Nation, which makes it one of only a few tribal communities with high-quality Internet access. Paul Bunyan provides gigabit connectivity to local schools for affordable rates and has been awarded the Leading Lights National Award for most Innovative Gigabit Broadband Service.

A Long Time Coming

Paul Bunyan Telephone began in 1950 when the residents in very rural northern Minnesota either had no telephone service, or received it from their townships, which meant they had to share lines with up to nine other customers. As a prerequisite to obtaining a loan from the Rural Telephone Administration (RTA) through the Rural Electric Administration (REA), the Co-op Board had to purchase and operate an existing system. They started with the privately owned Kelliher Telephone Company along with the Hendrickson Township Telephone system. In addition funds they had obtained by selling memberships in the cooperative, the board directors agreed to mortgage their own property as collateral so another local cooperative and a local bank would loan Paul Bunyan Telephone enough to purchase both telephone systems. It was a risk, but it paid off.

Over the decades, the cooperative stayed current on technology, introducing better communications by investing in new equipment and continuing to offer better options to members. They grew by purchasing other smaller local cooperatives and local telephone companies.

Paul Bunyan’s first fiber investment was in 1988, when they ran fiber-optic lines to carry telephone service as a way to prevent the network from being filled to capacity with phone calls. By 1996, the cooperative began offering Internet access to members; they called the service Paul Bunyan Net. There have been multiple investments in infrastructure and a number of expansions as the cooperative has continued to grow. Upgrades of the Paul Bunyan network, transforming it to the GigaZone, began in 2014. 

Cooperatives And Munis Serving Rural Areas

Rural telephone and electric cooperatives like Paul Bunyan Communications are increasingly investing in the infrastructure to offer high-quality connectivity to their members. National providers focus on urban areas where population is concentrated, leaving smaller towns to find other ways to find high-quality connectivity. An increasing number of cooperatives are choosing to deliver gigabit service. Municipal networks are similarly situated.

Paul Bunyan Communications’ history reflects the journey of a number of small towns across America. Rather than gamble by waiting on large corporate providers, people in rural areas tap into their Paul-Bunyan-sized self-reliant streaks to decide what’s best for their own communities.