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.