Paul Bunyan annoucces The GigaZone Comes to Big Falls (Koochiching County)

Big news for Big Falls…

The GigaZone has come to Big Falls! As a result of continued upgrades to the cooperative’s all-fiber optic network, members in Big Falls now have access to GigaZone services including Internet speeds up to a Gigabit per second.

“We continue to make great progress on upgrading our network to incorporate even more members into the GigaZone. I’m very proud of all the hard work our cooperative has put in so far as we put our membership and region at the forefront of the very latest in communication networks.” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.

The GigaZone is currently available to over 35,500 locations, making it one of the largest rural all-fiber optic networks in the United States! Check out our online map http://paulbunyan.net/gigazone/map/ showing the current areas of the GigaZone as well as those that will be constructed/upgraded in the future.

GigaZone service options include unprecedented Broadband Internet speeds of up to 1000 Mbps – a Gigabit. Members who subscribe to GigaZone Broadband can also add PBTV Fusion and/or low cost unlimited long distance service. All current service options also remain available to cooperative members within the GigaZone.

Many current wireless routers cannot support blazing GigaZone Internet speeds.  To help, the cooperative is offering GigaZone Integrated Wi-Fi that uses the latest in advanced Wi-Fi technologies to maximize the in-home wireless experience. This service is free to all new GigaZone customers for the first six months, with a minimal charge thereafter.

Paul Bunyan Communications recently mailed out information to the new locations that are now in the GigaZone and the cooperative has an online map available at http://paulbunyan.net/gigazone/map/ showing the active areas of the GigaZone as well as those areas that will be constructed/upgraded in the future.

“If you are wondering when the GigaZone will reach you, the online map of the active areas and plans for this year is a great resource.” added Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.

Paul Bunyan Communications has the region’s largest and fastest all fiber optic network with over 5,500 square miles throughout most of Beltrami County and portions of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties. The Cooperative provides Broadband High Speed Internet Services including the GigaZone, digital and high definition television services, digital voice services, Residential and Business IT services, and is also northern Minnesota’s certified Apple Service Center.

Meeker Coop deploys Vibrant Broadband Meeker and parts of McLeod, Kandiyohi, Stearns, Wright and Renville counties

The Hutchinson Leader reports…

Meeker Cooperative’s big move to making its Vibrant Broadband internet service available to its customers throughout the county received praise Thursday from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.

The governor attended a “ribbon cutting” ceremony at the cooperative’s headquarters in Litchfield during which he and other speakers said that internet connectivity today is as important as electricity was 80-some years ago when rural electric cooperatives began supplying that service.

“To the entire board of Meeker Cooperative, you embody what community means,” Walz said. “This harkens back to a time when running that final mile of power line was a big undertaking. There wasn’t an economy of scale that made sense, but what did make sense was the understanding of the economic engine that we could turn loose.”

There was a nod to the Coop’s board…

Meeker Cooperative CEO Tim Mergen said the cooperative began looking at the broadband project back in 2016, and credited the board of directors for backing it.

“They’re the ones that took the big risk to go ahead and say, ‘yeah, let’s go ahead and move this project forward,’” Mergen said. “They did what the board of directors did 84 years ago when the co-op was formed to bring electricity out to the area we now serve electricity to. it was a great big leap of faith then, it was a leap of faith now.”

And some info on the network…

Meeker Cooperative looked to change that in its service area, which includes Meeker and parts of McLeod, Kandiyohi, Stearns, Wright and Renville counties, when it announced in November that it had begun installing a fiber optic backbone, connecting its 14 substations throughout the county to provide Vibrant Broadband.

Darwin and Dassel were the first towns in the service area to receive the new technology on July 1. Mergen wrote in a column for the Meeker Pioneer — the cooperative’s monthly newsletter — that it would take about two years to complete countywide connections.

But it’s the start that many have been looking for – not just in Meeker County, but throughout the state, and even the nation.

In an earlier article the Hutchinson Leader reported on speeds they had seen with Vibrant…

In a test it conducted earlier this year, Meeker Cooperative found download speed with Vibrant Broadband is approximately 50 megabytes per second with an upload speed of about 8 megabytes per second, about double the speed provided by a competitor in the test.

That will help them get to the 2022 MN state speed goals, but not the 2026. However the fiber deployed to the towers helps bring fiber closer to the homes and that will help them reach the 2026 goals.

Broadband on Public Radio – Improving Rural Areas

I thought I heard this on the radio last week – Inside The Movement To Improve Access To High-Speed Internet In Rural Areas. I’m glad that Benton shared the link to the archive. It’s a 4-minute story about getting broadband to small towns in Texas.

The answer in the town they visited is an Electric Cooperative, who had this to say…

It’s not about making money. You’re not doing this to make money. You’re doing this to allow your communities to survive and to be here 20 years from now.

It sounds a lot like some rural Minnesota towns, although this story mentions cowboys a lot more.

Paul Bunyan Communications Returns Over $2.8 Million Member’s Share in Cooperative’s Success

Two years ago I looked at the community ROI of public investment in broadband. It turns out that while businesses can have a difficult time making the business case for better broadband – the community does see a return. SO it’s great to see a cooperative, such as Paul Bunyan, sharing their ROI with their customers and sharing the info with everyone…

Over $2.8 million has been returned to members of Paul Bunyan Communications, the cooperative announced today.

Paul Bunyan Communications is a not for profit company that strives to provide the highest quality service at the most affordable rates.  As a cooperative, membership in Paul Bunyan Communications includes the opportunity to share in the financial success of the company. When profits are earned they are allocated to the members based on their proportional share of the allocable revenues.  These allocations may then be returned to the individual members through capital credit retirements.

For current members with a distribution amount less than $75, a credit has been applied to your August bill. Checks have been mailed out for distributions of $75 or more.

“The state of our cooperative is very strong with over 27,600 active members throughout our 5,500 square mile service territory.  We have been very busy building one of the largest all-fiber optic rural Gigabit networks in the country, the GigaZone, which is revolutionizing the way members live, work, and play.  It is rewarding to see all those efforts continue to pay off and return these profits to our membership” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.

“For over 65 years we have been providing the latest in technology at cost.  There is no membership fee to join Paul Bunyan Communications and there are no annual membership dues. All you need to do is subscribe to either one line of local phone or Broadband Internet service and you become a member. You get the latest in technology backed up by our talented team of over 130 local employees that all live and work here” added Dave Schultz, Paul Bunyan Communications Chief Financial Officer.

“In a highly competitive industry with national competitors our cooperative has been successful because we put our region and our members first.  We don’t have to worry about customers all over the place like in Sioux Falls, Fargo, Minneapolis, or anywhere else. Our investments go here, back into our network, our services, and our communities.” added Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.

If you were a member of the cooperative in 2002 and/or 2018 and accrued more than $10 in total capital credit allocations, but do not receive the credit on your account or a check by September 22, please contact Paul Bunyan Communications at (218) 444-1234 or (218) 999-1234.

Rural Minnesota Cooperatives Partner to Connect Aitkin County

The Institute for Local Self Reliance recently highlighted the FTTH project in Aitkin County

The lakes and forests of Aitkin County in northern Minnesota make it an ideal location for a vacation home, but poor connectivity has historically limited days spent at the cabin to weekends and holidays. However, a new partnership between Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) and Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC) is making it possible for families to extend their trips up north by connecting lakeside cabins with high-speed Internet access.

The two co-ops are working together to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, XStream Fiber, that will bring fast, reliable broadband access to homes and businesses in MLEC’s service territory. MLEC hopes that the improved connectivity will benefit the local economy by encouraging seasonal residents, who make up more than 40 percent of the cooperative’s membership, to stay in the region for longer.

It’s a tale of collaboration with the cooperatives working together spurred by a network created with support from a Minnesota broadband grant…

CTC’s role in the partnership is to provide network connectivity, Internet backhaul, and backend support while MLEC manages billing, marketing, and other subscriber services. The cooperatives coordinate technical support calls, with MLEC handling basic issues itself and pushing higher level problems to CTC. The electric co-op owns all of the fiber infrastructure within its service territory.

The Xstream fiber might not have made it into the ground the $1.76 million Minnesota Border to Border Broadband grant that MLEC received in 2016.

21 percent of MN can access fiber through a Cooperative

The Institute for Local Self Reliance has updated their 2017 report on how Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America, because…

In the 18 months from when we originally released our report on rural cooperatives, we have seen a tremendous increase in attention on cooperatives as a key approach for dramatically improving rural Internet access. Many cooperatives have become more aggressive in building next-generation networks for their member-owners and their neighbors. This updated report reflects the latest data we could gather on this essential movement.

Here are some of the high level highlights:

    • More than 140 co-ops across the country now offer residential gigabit Internet access to their members, reaching more than 300 communities.
    • Co-ops connect 70.8 percent of North Dakota and 47.7 percent of South Dakota landmass to fiber, and residents enjoy some of the fastest Internet access speeds in the nation.
    • Georgia and Mississippi have overturned state laws banning co-ops from offering Internet access, and other states, including Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, and Texas, have implemented legislation that will further ease the way.

And  a look at what’s happening in Minnesota.

They mention a few Minnesota coops and the impact of Minnesota state grants…

In addition to federal funding sources, co-ops
are often eligible for state and local grants. The
Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Grant
Program has awarded funds to several
cooperatives, and multiple states looked to it as
a model for their own grant programs. Local 22
government funding for connectivity is rarer, but
in Minnesota, numerous counties have
provided loans and grants to electric and
telephone cooperatives for broadband projects,
often to supplement federal or state funding.23
For example, Cook County, Minnesota, offered
Arrowhead Electric Cooperative a $4 million
grant after the co-op was awarded $16 million
in stimulus funding.

“Fiber is the name of our game at CTC” Kristi Westbrock featured in ISE Mag

I love to see Minnesota getting broadband attention, I’m especially pleased to see a smart MN Woman featured in an interview with ISE Magazine – Kristi Westbrock, CEO at CTC. You can read about CTC and fiber…

ISE: What are your priorities in terms of fiber investments in 2019? What are the challenges you face when working with your own team and/or contractors to deploy fiber in rural Minnesota? What are some of the tactics and solutions you employ to get them expedited and completed on budget?

Westbrock: Fiber is the name of our game at CTC. While we’ve dabbled in alternate service offerings, CTC has committed that our long-term investments will be designed as FTTP.

Challenges always surround making financial models in fiber builds sustainable and eventually profitable. CTC has been using several tools to determine the feasibility in areas of high demand that serve as expansion projects for us. Knowing our committed take rates have been critical in determining the success of each build. Gaining customer commitment prior to building fiber in a neighborhood, township, or rural community, has also been critical to the return on the investment. Churn of a customer, once they have a fiber connection, is nearly non-existent for CTC, which is a testament to the service quality fiber brings.

The largest challenge in building FTTP in Minnesota is simply the weather. Our build season is short, typically May to October, and then construction is put on hold. This creates long delays when those who are anxiously awaiting Internet service in rural areas can’t get it due to the weather. Because of the short time to build, the plow needs to go into the ground as soon as the frost is out, and State and Federal permitting needs to be expedited.

And on life as a cooperative…

ISE: Share the differences and nuances about working with a telco cooperative. Why is that type of structure a strength for CTC? How can it impede network transformation?

Westbrock: The first 10 years of my career were spent working for private and publicly traded companies. Bottom line and profits drove strategy. Then I transformed to working for a Cooperative. It was a learning curve to understand the 7 Principals of a Cooperative and tying those into the short- and long-term decisions that are made.

The Cooperative has a Board of Directors that is elected by the membership, which are the owners. The overriding goal of a telecommunications Cooperative is to bring services to those that are unserved while ensuring stability for the member owners.

Being a Cooperative is the magic ingredient in what we do each day. We focus each day on members, employees, and communities, to provide life-changing technology solutions for a sustainable future. Sometimes this means that the models don’t work out to have payback in a normal business model. Serving unserved areas is and will continue to be a focus of CTC. We are thankful for programs through the RUS. We also are deeply engrained in the communities we support, therefore having high recognition of being the local provider. Recently we underwent a full customer journey study; through this we learned that customers in our communities want to purchase from a local provider with local service.