I am posting the following editorial from Gary Evan with permission. It was originally posted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. One of the things that strikes me is the solidarity of two private broadband providers who are each striving to bring better broadband to Minnesota. It reminds me of the mid-1990s when we used to host IPS lunches, email lists and educational opportunities. A time when people recognized that the network worked better when everyone worked together. It worked for the community and the business…
Paul Bunyan Communications deserves praise for its serious investment in broadband infrastructure in northern Minnesota (‘“GigaZone’” comes Up North,” Sept. 19). As a cooperative, Paul Bunyan can expand world-class service because its customers are also its shareholders. Too often, larger providers’ out-of-state shareholders demand quick returns on investments, inhibiting costly broadband expansions. Partly as a result, a governor’s task force ranks Minnesota 23rd nationally in terms of broadband speed.
High-quality broadband means economic growth. For example, a Blandin Foundation-commissioned study found high-quality broadband in Kanabec County could spur $18.2 million in business revenue. Currently, 71 percent of households there — and 46 percent of Greater Minnesota households — don’t meet state speed goals.
Thankfully, the Legislature recently established a broadband fund to target areas with greatest need and economic return, while helping align a provider’s short-term need for a return on investment and a community’s long-term need for broadband infrastructure.
State leaders should follow the task force recommendation to devote $200 million to the fund so Greater Minnesota — and the state — can reap broadband’s benefits.
GARY EVANS, St. Paul
The writer is president of the Greater Minnesota Partnership and former CEO of Hiawatha Broadband Communications.
Gary wasn’t the only one who noted Paul Bunyan’s efforts, Lee Schafer also had an article in the paper putting Paul Bunyan’s investment n perspective.
The company, based in Bemidji, had about $54 million in 2013 revenue. That makes it an awfully small company to be installing miles and miles of fiber. Johnson said that he was even a bit surprised to learn, after tallying up all the capital investments made in its fiber-optic network, that the total thus far is about $150 million.
“It really wasn’t thrown out there like ‘Do you want to spend $150 million?’ ” said Johnson. “We are a cooperative. So it’s in our DNA to look through the lens of ‘what to our members need?’ Not ‘Is it going to be super-profitable,’ that kind of thing.”
The cooperative has borrowed money from a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But those were loans, not grants. Beyond that, he said “it’s just been our own investment. It’s been pay-as-you-go, for over a decade.”
Not only does Johnson explain that there was nothing easy about it, he’s nothing but a fan of public financing for broadband like Minnesota’s new $20 million broadband grant program. The company would take any help it could get to continue to expand Paul Bunyan’s network.
Paul Bunyan’s service territory extends east to Grand Rapids, with parts of it extending all the way to just east of International Falls. Johnson called the network “99 percent” ready for the first 1-gigabit customers to be turned on early next year, at a price of $100 per month for Internet access.