CNS acquires WCTG creating unified state-wide fiber network

Big news from CNS

– Cooperative Network Services, LLC (CNS), a Minnesota fiber-optic transport carrier announced today that it has purchased the assets of West Central Transport Group, LLC (WCTG), a major fiber network in west central and southern Minnesota.

The deal will increase the CNS backbone network to a total of 2,500 route miles of fiber, and including partner assets, brings the network total to 10,200 route miles of fiber and 40,000 on-net/lit buildings.

Combining the assets of these two networks will enable MN’s rural telecom and broadband providers to deliver increasingly advanced services faster.

“This acquisition fits perfectly with the CNS purpose of Bringing More Broadband to More Rural Places… it creates new opportunities for success for many rural MN independent telecom providers, ensuring they have access to essential network services, and that they have a stake in the transport business for the future,” said Jason Dale, CNS CEO. “As technology and rural transport economics have changed, it’s clear that a unified state-wide network is a key ingredient to remaining relevant in the transport world. By combining these two complimentary networks, we’ve taken a huge step forward. We are extremely excited for this new chapter.”

The decision for combining these networks was an obvious one since eight of the owners of WCTG are also CNS owners, and the two networks have a long history of partnering together. These relationships will lend themselves to a quick transition, and early growth opportunities. The WCTG network will operate under the CNS subsidiary Fiber Minnesota, LLC.

“WCTG felt the CNS team was the perfect choice to continue meeting the needs of customers and neighbors,” said Jake Anderson, President of WCTG. “We are excited for the opportunities and crucial connectivity our combined networks will bring to the state of Minnesota and beyond.”

Similar to surrounding states

Minnesota’s fiber transport landscape has long been made up of smaller regional networks, but as technology has progressed, so too is the need for a larger, unified network.

For years, Minnesota has differed from neighboring states, where the independent telephone/ broadband providers joined forces decades ago to create statewide networks – enjoying robust facilities and advanced centralized solutions.

“This is a big win for the independent telecom providers in MN,” said Dean Bahls, CNS’ Network Manager. “The increased footprint will provide direct connectivity to more CNS owner companies, as well as connectivity to many more on-net customers throughout large portions of the state.”

The CNS Network currently uses Cisco NCS2K/15454 ROADM and has a proven track record of uptime. The newly acquired network also uses the same platform and will mesh together seamlessly.

Streamlined quoting and turn-up

With the increase of on-net route miles, quoting circuits will be faster, and pricing will be more competitive. Customers will enjoy highly available services, with faster resolution times.

Network of Networks

As with the current CNS network, through partnership with 702 Communications, the newly combined network will be branded under the Aurora Fiber Optic Networks name and will continue to be a part of the INDATEL nationwide network of networks.

The CNS purpose is to Bring More Broadband to More Rural Places. With that goal in mind we provide a variety of services to the rural telecommunications industry.

Cooperative Network Services (CNS) is a key provider of high-capacity fiber-optic backhaul for much of Minnesota, providing IP/TDM Transport, Special Access Circuits, and Ethernet services to the carrier, enterprise, and SMB markets.

CNS’ ownership consists of 20 cooperative telephone and broadband providers operating in and around Minnesota.

In addition to the CNS transport network, we also provide professional services to rural providers throughout the country, including: Engineering, Consulting, Video Product Management, Human Resources, and Graphic Design services.

Our ownership consists exclusively of cooperative telecommunications providers, and CNS reflects the cooperative spirit and values of its owners in the services it provides. By working together as a group, CNS provides the benefits and efficiencies of consolidation that much of the rest of our industry has experienced in recent years, while at the same time offering services that no single member could offer alone. This is very much in keeping with the cooperative mission. Do More. Together.

CenturyLink to bring fiber to 1,000+ homes in Nessel Township, MN (Chisago County)

Yahoo! Finance reports…

CenturyLink, Inc. CTL announced its plans to bring fiber to more than 1,000 homes and enterprises in Nessel Township, MN. Residents of this rural area will have access to reliable and high-speed Internet. The Monroe, LA-based communications company’s fiber and IP-based network capacity combined with its financial strength positions it well to support customers and boost shareholders’ value in the long term.

CenturyLink has a significant presence in Minnesota, with more than 17,000 miles of fiber and one million connections. The company’s investments and Minnesota’s Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program will help meet the state’s goal of extensive broadband service. This public-private partnership project is aimed at providing the fiber and electronics needed for high-speed connections of up to 940 Mbps. It complements other similar projects in Minnesota’s underserved areas, providing more than 3,300 connections since 2014.

Paul Bunyan Communications Returns Capital Credits Early; Over $4.1 Million Distributed, Largest in Cooperative Histor

I don’t usually share such business-focused press releases, but it’s a good time for good news and it seems like a sign that you can make a business case for rural broadband at Gig speeds…

Instead of the regular fall distribution, Paul Bunyan Communications has sent out the 2020 Capital Credit return early to its members and it is the largest return in the cooperative’s history, over $4.1 million.
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 sharing in the financial success of the company. Profits 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.
The 2020 distribution includes 20% of credits earned in 2019 and the remaining credits earned in 2002. For current members with a distribution amount of $100 or less, a credit has been applied to your June bill. Checks have been mailed out to members receiving more than $100. “The state of the cooperative is strong and our all-fiber optic network, the GigaZone, is one of the largest rural gigabit networks in the country. This enables our members to keep connected to work from home, distance learn, use telehealth services, watch streaming video, and much more. To help our members in these current circumstances, our Board of Directors felt strongly about paying out capital credits as aggressively and as quickly as possible” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.
“Our cooperative member-owned structure and rural focus allows us to provide technologies and a level of service to our members unlike other providers. We are well prepared and committed to provide our members the critical communication services they need with the local customer service they deserve now and well into the future. Thank you to all of our members for being a part of Minnesota’s largest broadband cooperative!” added Randy Frisk, Board President.
“Our cooperative provides the latest in technology at cost. There is no membership fee to join Paul Bunyan Communications and there are no annual membership dues. To become a member of the cooperative, all you need to do is subscribe to either local phone or broadband Internet service. 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.

MN Cooperative Fiber Coverage up 1,000 square miles from 2019

The Institute for Local Self Reliance has updated their 2017 report on how Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America; they update it on a regular basis. The quick take from the Minnesota perspective – coverage in Minnesota has increased by 1,000 square miles – or percentage wise from 21.6 to 22.3 percent in the last year.

2020 Coverage

2019 Coverage

And here are recommendations…

Federal and state governments must recognize that cooperatives are one of the best tools for ubiquitous, rural, high-speed Internet access.

  1. Design funding programs with cooperatives in mind.
    1. Letters of credit from the largest banks may be hard to come by for smaller cooperatives.
    2. Make applications as simple and easy as possible. Staff time is limited at small cooperatives.
    3. Develop grant and loan programs rather than create incentives in the tax code for infrastructure investment.
  2. Encourage cooperatives by removing barriers and encouraging partnerships.
    1. Remove barriers to electric cooperatives exploring the possibility of fiber network. Cooperatives should not be prevented from applying to federal grants that they are eligible for because of hindersome state laws.
    2. Encourage partnerships, including with existing muni networks.
  3. If you live in a rural area, talk to your neighbors, co-op manager, and board members about the potential for Internet networks. Successful cooperative projects are community-led projects. About 70 percent of electric cooperatives have less than 10 percent average turnout for their board member elections.25
    1. Co-Mo Electric Cooperative in Missouri had excited members go door-to-door and gave out yard signs to encourage folks to get involved with the project. Many community members also wrote letters of support for the project.
    2. In New Mexico, the local business community voiced their needs at Kit Carson Electric Cooperative board meetings to encourage the co-op to build a fiber network.
    3. Delta Montrose Electric Association in Colorado overcame an initial reluctance to develop an Internet access project after overwhelming demand from its members.26
  4. Make it clear that rural connectivity is about more than entertainment. Farmers, programmers, and entrepreneurs all need high-speed Internet access. Rural connectivity also supports needed research.
    1. Allband Communications Cooperative started a non-profit called ACEWR, which collaborates with universities and research institutions across the United States. It is a prime spot for research on local wildlife, endangered species, and conservation projects. The nonprofit also has an online workforce development program to train locals in new skills, empowering them to succeed in the 21st century economy

Duluth New Tribune Letter to the Editor lifts up fiber as the broadband solution

Duluth New Tribune posts a letter from Kyle Moorhead, chief technology officer who makes some assertions about current broadband providers…

In my 30 years in the business, I’ve observed a few things.

Most telecommunications companies have quietly abandoned rural and suburban communities. Due to economic realities, they have applied bandages instead of replacing old equipment. Fixes and installations are done as quickly and cheaply as possible. Then it is onto the next project. Later they send a repair truck to try to fix problems.

And offers a recommendation…

Local, state, and federal officials are trying desperately to solve the problem. But after spending hundreds of millions of dollars, in many cases, the problems still exist and few people understand why. Sometimes the system works, sometimes it doesn’t. People are clear about what they want: reliable, affordable, high-speed service.

This is critical infrastructure, and it needs a complete redesign. But that doesn’t mean cities become internet providers. That economic model doesn’t work either. A new model must continue to allow internet and cell phone companies to provide their services. The community’s role is building and taking control of the fiber infrastructure through public-private partnerships. Just like public entities build roads today, they need to build a reliable fiber “road.”

Reliability demands a completely different design coupled with a well-built fiber infrastructure. This approach ensures low ongoing maintenance costs. It means combining all the public and private grant money available to cities, counties, townships, school districts, and other public entities to design and install a fiber infrastructure. It means taxpayers help foot the bill once for a network that serves entire communities’ needs not only today but also well into the future.

Paul Bunyan’s broadband is making life easier during coronavirus on the Iron Range (Itasca County)

Hometown Focus posts stories from folks on the Iron Range who have broadband from Paul Bunyan and are better armed for the pandemic because of it…

During the Stay Home statewide order, three Itasca County residents who received broadband connection from the Paul Bunyan project shared their testimony.

Claire Peterlin is the Itasca Area Schools Career Pathways Program director and is teleworking from her home on Scenic 7. She connects daily with teachers and career pathway professionals through an online chat-ready room to keep the curriculum going for students taking college level and career academy-based courses.

“The world of education has totally shifted the last few weeks, but I really believe that we will come out even stronger with more tools in our belts once ‘normal’ resumes,” said Peterlin. “I miss meeting face-to-face with my peers, but none of this would be possible without reliable high-speed internet.”

Vicki Hagberg is the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce president. She is teleworking from her home on Buck Lake north of Nashwauk. Her husband is a superintendent in the pipefitting division of CR Meyer and is preparing construction bids from home during the pandemic.

“When we were in the market to buy a home in 2017, broadband connectivity was one of our top considerations. Little did we know then how needed it would be to continue our employment during a global pandemic,” said Hagberg.

Aaron Brown is an instructor of communication at Hibbing Community College, while also working as an author, radio producer and Iron Range news blogger. He and his wife have three sons, and the entire family is working and learning from their Itasca County home during the COVID 19 crisis. Aaron conducts video conferences from his home for his students, so they can complete his course and graduate on time. Meantime, he is collaborating with a partner in New York on a new podcast project. Earlier this week he published an article on the new urgency for rural broadband.

“Access to high-speed internet in rural northeastern Minnesota is equivalent to other basic services such as postal delivery, electricity and telephones,” said Whitney Ridlon, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation community representative. “Mail, electrical and telephone service at one point in history were considered luxuries and available only in larger cities. Eventually our nation considered these basic public utilities and made them available in rural areas across America: mail delivery in the early 1900s, electricity in the 1930s and telephone service in the 1950s. We are at that same point with broadband.”

Invest in America after Coronavirus? Tom Friedman suggest broadband and mentions Red Wing

Tom Friedman’s latest column in the New York Times takes a look at how we can invest in America to help give young American’s the skills and tool they will need to get beyond the Coronavirus debt. He lists three things; broadband makes the shortlist…

Expanded high-speed internet connectivity everywhere, but particularly in rural America, so more people can participate in the innovation economy.

And he backs that up with using Red Wing as a model community…

But let’s not stop there. Let’s also create tax, regulatory and funding incentives for every community — but particularly the many underserved rural communities — to install high-speed broadband and fiber to the home.

“Building fiber infrastructure all across heartland America ensures that high-paying jobs can take place anywhere,” explained Matt Dunne, executive director of the Center on Rural Innovation, and it makes the whole country “more resilient to future pandemics and climate change-related weather events that require children and workers to stay home.”

High-speed internet basically enables anyone anywhere to get training for a better job, often at low to no cost, from online universities or YouTube instructional videos.

And if you connect them, they will invent. I traveled with Dunne in September to Red Wing, Minn., south of Minneapolis, to see the creative ways in which small towns were investing in rural broadband to build gigabit networks that support high-tech start-ups and local manufacturers.

My favorites were two Minnesota inventors who came up with a robotic chicken/turkey coop cleaner. It patrols the poultry house for dead birds and tills the bedding, but with an unexpected byproduct: The birds exercise more and are healthier, because they are constantly running away from or pecking at the robot. It also decreases the pecking order, so fewer birds are picked on and shunned. Mortality decreases and money is saved on feed and medicine. It’s called the “Poultry Patrol.”

And its inventors were “doing their prototyping in the region because farmers there have fiber to the home,” said Dunne. “While the robots work autonomously most of the time, there are significant periods when they need to be remotely operated and receive coding updates from afar, which is only possible with very fast broadband.”

What Dunne proposes is that the federal government create a new loan program, reminiscent of the Rural Electrification Act, which would offer 50-year, no-interest loans to communities and co-ops creating rural fiber broadband networks and an easing of regulations to enable public-private coalitions to build rural broadband and attach high-speed fiber to existing telephone poles.

This connectivity would also promote another enabling platform we need: manufacturing from anywhere through a network of open-source maker spaces. This, too, requires less government funding and more inspiration and imagination to show people what is possible.

Residents of the Iron Range testify to value of Paul Bunyan FTTH especially during pandemic

The IRRR Ranger reports

Paul Bunyan Communications in 2015 installed fiber optic lines to bring high speed internet to portions of Itasca County including the townships of Balsam, Lawrence, Nashwauk and the former Iron Range Township.

The project was a collaboration among public partners, community members and the rural cooperative Paul Bunyan. Together they successfully brought broadband to 1,310 locations, including homes and businesses. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported the project with a $1.25 million grant.

“Fast, reliable and affordable broadband access in northeastern Minnesota is an economic necessity, not a luxury,” said Mark Phillips, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation commissioner. “Our families, workers, businesses, senior citizens, health care systems, students and schools are using it like never before. During the COVID-19 crisis it is enabling learning, working and health care to continue. But there is more work to be done to bring it to every single acre and corner of northeastern Minnesota.”

During the Stay Home statewide order, three Itasca County residents who received broadband connection from the Paul Bunyan project shared their testimony.

Claire Peterlin is the Itasca Area Schools Career Pathways Program Director and is teleworking from her home on Scenic 7. She connects daily with teachers and career pathway professionals through an online chat-ready room to keep the curriculum going for students taking college level and career academy based courses.

“The world of education has totally shifted the last few weeks, but I really believe that we will come out even stronger with more tools in our belts once ‘normal’ resumes,” said Peterlin. “I miss meeting face-to-face with my peers, but none of this would be possible without reliable high-speed internet.”

Vicki Hagberg is the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce president. She is teleworking from her home on Buck Lake north of Nashwauk. Her husband is a superintendent in the pipefitting division of CR Meyer and is preparing construction bids from home during the pandemic.

“When we were in the market to buy a home in 2017, broadband connectivity was one of our top considerations. Little did we know then how needed it would be to continue our employment during a global pandemic,” said Hagberg.

Clearfield announces Home Deployment Kits to Streamline FTTH Ad minimize customer interaction in time of social distancing

This is a little more industry than I usually post – but I think it’s interesting in an era of social distancing and Clearfield is a Minnesota company; they report

Clearfield, Inc. (NASDAQ:CLFD), the specialist in fiber management for communication service providers, today announced the introduction of Home Deployment Kits. Designed to streamline and ease the task of FTTH deployment, Home Deployment Kits include everything you need to connect a home to fiber — all in one box. Clearfield’s Home Deployment Kits can reduce install time by 30 minutes per install. For carriers looking to deploy a fiber network to 1,000 homes over the next year, this equates to a time savings of 500 hours with a lower-cost per install team. For those consumers willing to take a do-it-yourself approach, the Home Deployment Kit enables a contactless installation keeping residents and fiber technicians at a safe distance.

Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar – Broadband 101 Archive

Thanks to the presenters and attendees for joining the latest Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar: Broadband 101.  Here we have the description, video archive, slides when available and chat transcript (get handouts discussed in the webinar)…

The third of ten webinars – Broadband 101 – over the next five weeks is April 7 at 9 a.m. CDT.  Join Carl Meyerhoefer of Calix and Tim Johnson of MVTV Wireless as they share their expertise in helping to create and spread a shared broadband vision in their area.

And chat Continue reading

Pandemic preparation for a local urban broadband providers: Community Networks with US Internet

Keeping up with broadband these days is becoming 24×7 job these days. I’m catching up a little bit over the weekend – starting with the Community Network’s podcast. This last week, Chris Mitchell spoke to Travis Carter of US Internet (USI) about what it’s like to provide broadband services during a pandemic.

First -their office is primarily working form home using Google Hangouts for meetings and a virtual private network to access local services and provide customer services. There are a few folks who aren’t working because that would break social distancing recommendations – but they are on staff and will remain so as long as possible.

They have seen a change in network traffic. It used to be that Sunday nights were the busiest time and now every day is like Sunday night. They do see an increase but it doesn’t compare with “Game of Thrones” busy. USI is focusing on keeping things running.

So why do some sites seem to run slow? It’s not the local providers. It’s because poplar sites don’t’ have the server power to handle the traffic.

The USI network in Minneapolis (with 2500 access points) is now open for free. There were about 7300 connections (at time of recording). They are running into some issues – but often that’s because people are trying to access wifi from their well-insulated, well-built home. The wifi just doesn’t move well through that barrier.

One funny note – they still have 1200 dialup customers! Not because USI can’t or won’t upgrade; they choose this level of connectivity. USI is working to see what might bring people online to a higher degree. They have tried different price points, adding television and partnering with device distributors, such as PCs for People.

Broadband Coming to Pennington and Strawberry Areas of Leech Lake Indian Reservation & SE Beltrami County

Good news from Paul Bunyan…

Paul Bunyan Communications is expanding its all-fiber optic network to parts of Southeast Beltrami County in the Pennington area this year and recently was awarded a Border to Border Broadband Grant from the state of Minnesota to expand its fiber optic services to the Strawberry area in 2021. To see if a location is included in either expansion project go to https://paulbunyan.net/gigazone/availability-map/
As a result of the recently announced grant, the cooperative will begin expansion construction to the Strawberry area in the spring of 2021. This all fiber optic project will make advanced fiber-optic services available to over 200 locations. The project is estimated to cost $581,600, with the State of Minnesota Border to Border grant contributing $261,720 and Paul Bunyan Communications investing $319,880.
“This is a big deal for those who live in the Pennington and Strawberry area. Access to quality broadband service is vital to so many different facets of life including health care, education, business, and recreation. I applaud Paul Bunyan Communications and all those involved to secure the necessary funding and continue to expand to provide this essential service to more of our tribal members. We will continue to work with Paul Bunyan to secure additional grant funding to bring broadband to other parts of the reservation that remain without access” said Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Tribal Chairman Faron Jackson, Sr.
“We are excited to continue our expansion efforts to provide access to broadband Internet speeds to those without it in our region. Our cooperative has a long history of expanding to underserved areas but it has become increasingly challenging to go it alone without grant support. The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe was instrumental in supporting our grant application to make this project a reality. These areas will not only get Broadband access, they will go from slow satellite or dial up Internet to speeds of up to a Gigabit per second and become part of one of the largest rural Gigabit networks in the country!,” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.
There are over 280 locations within the Pennington expansion planned for 2020 and those locations can sign up for services at any time. This is required in order to get the fiber optic network installed up to the location during construction and receive services once the work is completed. The cooperative expects to develop the expansion plans for the Strawberry area later this year. The Strawberry area expansion will start in the spring of 2021 and be completed by June 30, 2022.
“These projects impact people’s lives. High quality, high bandwidth internet services are critical to economic growth and new educational opportunities.” added Steve Howard, Paul Bunyan Communications Information Technology and Development Manager. “It is the local support demonstrated by the Leech Lake leadership that was essential in getting our plans selected in a highly competitive process.” said Howard.
“Lack of access to quality Internet service creates a lot of difficulties for students, businesses, and residents. I’m excited to see both of these projects move forward. All Minnesotans should be able to access fast, reliable internet service and the Border to Border Broadband Grant program is making a big difference in helping to do just that.” added State 5A Representative John Persell. “I salute the hard work of our elected officials who championed the Border to Border Broadband Grant Program including Rep. Ecklund, Rep. Sandstede, Senator Bakk, Rep. Persell, Senator Tomassoni, and Rep. Layman. I also want to thank the Office of Broadband Development that oversees the program. This is going to make a world of difference in so many ways to a lot of people right here in northern Minnesota!” said Johnson. The Cooperative’s services will become available once the network is operational including GigaZone service options like unprecedented Broadband Internet speeds of up to 1000 Mbps – a Gigabit, digital and high definition TV services, and low cost unlimited local and long distance GigaZone voice service. There is no membership fee to join Paul Bunyan Communications, membership is included by subscribing to either local phone service or GigaZone Internet service.

CTC hosts open houses in Cherry Feb 27 & 28 to discuss new USDA supported network expansion

I reported on CTC’s USDA $5.2 million investment in Cherry and Great Scott townships on the Iron Range. The Hibbing Daily News reports more…

“We’re thrilled to receive this award,” said Kristi Westbrock, CEO and General Manager at CTC, in a statement. “Residents and business owners in the Cherry Township area have made it very clear that they need high-speed internet in order to thrive. We look forward to partnering with NESC and to serving this area for years to come.”

To help spread the word and answer questions about their internet services, staff from CTC are set to host two open houses this week at Cherry Town Hall, located off Highway 37, just outside Hibbing. The first open house will be held 4-6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, and the second will be held 9-11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 28. Refreshments will be provided.

CTC is a member-owned cooperative according to their website. Anyone in the new service area who signs up before Feb. 29 will have the installation fee waived plus the first two months free with a monthly charge of $50 with a two-year contract.

And contact info…

For more information about the ReConnect Pilot Program, visit www.usda.gov/reconnect.

For general inquiries about CTC or the upcoming service to the Cherry area, call 218-231-9100, or visit www.goctc.com/cherry.

For questions about business services, call 218-454-1166, or email business@goctc.com. For questions about residential services, call 218-454-1144, or email residential@goctc.com.

Update on Paul Bunyan’s MN Broadband Grant for portions of Koochiching and St. Louis Counties

Great news for portions of Koochiching and St. Louis Counties…

Paul Bunyan Communications has been awarded a Border to Border Broadband Grant from the state of Minnesota to expand its fiber optic services to portions of Koochiching County and St. Louis County.
As a result, the cooperative will begin expansion construction in late 2020 and continue into 2021. This all fiber optic project will pass a minimum of 1,100 locations in portions of Koochiching and St. Louis County. The project is estimated to cost $5.68 million, with the State of Minnesota Border to Border grant contributing $2.35, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) grant contributing $802,700, and Paul Bunyan Communications investing $2.5 million. In support of the grant, Koochiching County will contribute $26,000 towards the portion of the project within the county and Morcom Township will contribute $10,000 towards the project within the township.
“This is huge for our region. Access to quality broadband service is vital to so many different facets of life including health care, education, business, and recreation. It is why I co-authored the bill to fund the Border to Border Grant Program in 2020 and introduced legislation to allocate another $30 million for the program in 2021. I applaud all those involved with supporting the effort to secure this grant so we can keep our rural communities thriving and vibrant.” said State 3A Representative Rob Ecklund.
“We are excited to continue our expansion efforts to provide access to broadband Internet speeds to those without it in our region. Our cooperative has a long history of expanding our network to underserved areas but it has become increasingly challenging to go it alone without grant support. The State of Minnesota Border to Border Grant Program, Koochiching County, Morcom Township, IRRRB, and the Koochiching Technology Initiative were instrumental in building community support for the grant application to make this project a reality. These areas will not only get Broadband access, they will go from slow satellite or dial up Internet to speeds of up to a Gigabit per second and become part of one of the largest rural Gigabit networks in the country!,” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.
Paul Bunyan Communications expects to develop the expansion plans later this year and will contact locations along the upcoming expansion routes either late this fall or next spring. The entire project will be completed by June 30, 2022. To see if your location is included in this expansion project go to https://paulbunyan.net/gigazone/availability-map/
“This project will have an incredible impact on people’s lives. Employees will be able to work from home, students will have access to educational resources, and seniors will be able to stay in their homes longer with telemedicine.” added Steve Howard, Paul Bunyan Communications Information Technology and Development Manager. “The leadership shown in supporting this project through local efforts of many at KTI and Morcom Township was impressive. It is that local support that is essential in getting our grant selected in a highly competitive process.” said Howard.
“Morcom’s township officials currently have difficulty conducting basic governmental functions like filing tax documents due to a lack of internet access, not to mention the difficulties students, businesses, and residents experience when they can’t get online. I’m excited to see this project move forward and am committed to meeting our broadband connectivity goals so all Minnesotans can access the fast, reliable internet service they deserve.” added State 6A Representative Julie Sandstede.
“I salute the hard work of our elected officials who championed the Border to Border Broadband Grant Program including Rep. Ecklund, Rep. Sandstede, Senator Bakk, Rep. Persell, Senator Tomassoni, and Rep. Layman. I also want to thank the Office of Broadband Development that oversees the program. This is going to make a world of difference in so many ways to a lot of people right here in northern Minnesota!” said Johnson.
Cooperative’s services will become available once the network is operational including GigaZone service options like unprecedented Broadband Internet speeds of up to 1000 Mbps – a Gigabit and low cost unlimited local and long distance GigaZone voice service. There is no membership fee to join Paul Bunyan Communications, membership is included by subscribing to either local phone service or GigaZone Internet service.

CTC Receives $5.2 million from USDA to serve Cherry and Great Scott townships on the Iron Range

Big news from CTC for parts of the Iron Range…

Today, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky announced that USDA has invested $11 million in three, high-speed broadband infrastructure projects that will create or improve rural e-Connectivity for more than 1,395 rural households and nearly 120 businesses throughout several counties in Minnesota and northern Iowa. This is one of many funding announcements in the first round of USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program investments. CTC was awarded a $5.2 million ReConnect Program grant to construct a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network of up to one gigabit of symmetrical high-speed internet to nearly 700 homes and public facilities in portions of Cherry and Great Scott townships in northeastern Minnesota’s Iron Range area. CTC will leverage existing middle-mile infrastructure, in partnership with Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC), and require only an additional 157.1 miles of new FTTP construction. The funded service area includes 667 households, two educational facilities and two critical community facilities in St. Louis County. CTC will invest $1,743,169 in the project; a 25% match. “We’re thrilled to receive this award,” said Kristi Westbrock, CEO and General Manager at CTC. “Residents and business owners in the Cherry Township area have made it very clear that they need high-speed internet in order to thrive. We look forward to partnering with NESC and to serving this area for years to come.”

As part of this round of funding, Harmony Telephone Company was also awarded a $2.7 million ReConnect Program loan and a $2.7 million ReConnect Program grant, while Osage Municipal Utilities in northern Iowa was awarded a $397,749 ReConnect Program grant. “When Americans are connected to high-speed internet, productivity and prosperity skyrocket,” Censky said. “This task of providing rural Americans with broadband is of the highest importance for President Trump and his Administration. We cannot leave millions of Americans out of the successes of this booming economy simply because they do not have access to the internet.” In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, Secretary Perdue announced the rules of the program, called “ReConnect,” including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America. USDA received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding across all three ReConnect Program funding products: 100 percent loan, 100 percent grant, and loan-grant combinations. USDA is reviewing applications and announcing approved projects on a rolling basis. Additional investments in all three categories will be made in the coming weeks. More information about the ReConnect Pilot Program is available at http://www.usda.gov/reconnect. CTC is a technology advisor and full service telecommunications company based in Brainerd, MN. Formed in 1952, CTC has grown into a complete communications provider offering telephone, high-speed internet, digital television, and IT services to businesses and individuals throughout central and northern Minnesota. More information about CTC can be found at http://www.goctc.com.