Paul Bunyan GigaZone Comes to Hines and areas of Blackduck

Happy to share the big news!

The GigaZone Comes to Hines and areas of Blackduck
One of the largest rural all-fiber optic Gigabit networks in the United States continues to grow;
Now available to more than 33,400 locations in northern Minnesota

(Bemidji, MN) (March 20, 2017) – Paul Bunyan Communications has announced that the GigaZone has come to Hines and areas of Blackduck. As a result of continued upgrades to the Cooperative’s all-fiber optic communications network over 700 more locations now have access to GigaZone services including Internet speeds up to a Gigabit per second.

“We’ve made great progress on upgrading our network to incorporate even more members into the GigaZone over the past several months.  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.  We will continue to do as much as we can to bring the GigaZone to all our members and the communities we serve as fast as we can.” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.

The GigaZone is currently available to over 33,400 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.

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 the next two years is a great resource.” added Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.

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.

Most 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 has the region’s largest and fastest all fiber optic network with over 5,000 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 Service up to a Gigabit per second, digital and high definition television services, Smart Home services, digital voice services, and more.   Service availability depends upon location, some restrictions may apply.

Industry view of MN small cell legislation

The St Cloud Times recently ran an editorial from Barry Umansky, Ball State University Digital Policy Institute…

The question on the table is how to expedite the process of deploying the infrastructure needed to power 5G, the most advanced wireless broadband network technology to come to market in the history of mobile networking. Engineers are reporting that 5G will deliver data and video at speeds once unimaginable, making the technology a realistic and affordable economic development tool for localities as much as it will be for businesses and citizens. But how fast citizens of any state can realize the benefits of 5G will depend on which state can most quickly and effectively clear the regulatory underbrush slowing down deployment of the network equipment needed to make 5G a reality. Minnesota’s small cell legislation (House File 739 and Senate File 561) is intended to do just that. This legislation should be applauded and supported.

In many localities, installing a communications antenna smaller than a pizza box typically requires approval from local zoning authorities, town councils and other public agencies — and under rules that tend to differ from city to city and town to town. And because permission for small cells is usually negotiated separately with each service provider, there’s a chance that one service provider gets a green light while another runs into roadblocks — meaning that the latter’s customers simply lose out.

Umansky recently presented at the Minnesota Broadband Networks Conference hosted by Minnesota Cable Communications Association, MN Telecom Alliance, AT&T, Comcast and others. (The counter of his view comes from the League of Minnesota Cities and Cable industry.)

I posted notes on the conversation in a Senate Committee meeting. Clearly the wireless provider and League of Minnesota Cities were trying to come to a compromise that would work for all sides. That is where the committee meeting left it more or less.

A tricky part of this is that 5G is a great solution for urban areas, downtown areas but not for rural areas – in part because it requires so much equipment and in part because of the distance limitations for the signal. And the local governments are reticent to relinquish control over the public right of way. Another tricky factor is that this topic is also being discussed at a national level.

Notes from Industry Broadband Networks Conference: Connections that Matter

Today I attended the Broadband Networks Conference hosted by Minnesota Cable Communications Association, MN Telecom Alliance, AT&T, Comcast and others. It is an industry look at broadband policy and includes local legislators, national viewpoints and stakeholders.

I tried to take pretty complete notes, which I’m going to post below with minimal proofing – mostly because I have to catch up with legislative happening and county profiles. The bird’s eye view a few themes emerged:

  • Minnesota is focused on broadband. Legislators understand it’s important and ubiquitous coverage will require state support. It’s a matter of how much support is available.
  • Rural areas without broadband will be left behind. People will not move to areas without broadband.
  • People are talking about 5G. The legislation related to 5G is the small cell access to public rights of way. National speakers recognized that 5G will be great for downtown areas and college campuses but not a solution rural areas.
  • There is interest in modernizing broadband-related regulation – such as how VoIP is handled, call completion.
  • National politics are a wildcard at this point. Everyone is hopeful that investment in infrastructure will include investment in broadband – although the timing is uncertain. Industry seems happy with the new FCC Chair – especially in terms of Net Neutrality.

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If rural broadband is too expensive how can Paul Bunyan be doing it?

heat-mapMyth: It’s too expensive to bring high speed broadband to rural areas.
Reality: Providers are bringing high speed broadband to rural areas!

At the right is a map of broadband in Minnesota. You can see that there are communities in rural Minnesota with good broadband (colored in blue). There are a handful of providers who offer that service. Some have been kind enough to agree to talk to me about how they are able to deploy, expand and upgrade broadband networks in rural Minnesota. I spoke with Brian Bissonette at Paul Bunyan Communications about how they were able to support broadband in rural areas notes on that conversation.

Paul Bunyan is a cooperative and “meeting the needs and expectations of our members and other customers” is a top priority. They began to upgrade their network in 2004 – 13 years ago! – and are nearly finished now. As a cooperative they are willing to invest in their communities and they have a different threshold for success than commercial providers and they have different parameters than larger national providers.

What is the business case?

Paul Bunyan is not focused on high or fast profit margin. They’re goal is to break even in 10+ years. Their investment is in the community as well as the business – supporting customer retention also supports business (and resident) retention and economic development for the community. Federal support, largely in the form of RUS (Rural Utility Service) low interest loans have made a difference. The Minnesota Border to Border grants have been essential for the very hard to each places.

Paul Bunyan has received Minnesota grants and without them probably would not have been able to make the business case to go into areas south of Park Rapids or Northern Itasca County. Paul Bunyan (and Minnesota) are getting to the stage where a larger percentage of unserved areas are unserved because they are the highest cost areas – due to distance, population density, difficult terrain, natural barriers and permitting issues (dealing with railroad crossings, forestry issues…). In those cases the state funding is necessary.

How do you decide where to go next?

Paul Bunyan focuses on a contiguous footprint. It’s much easier to extend a network than build in a new area – although they have looked at some new projects recently. And building is only one portion of the cost of expansion. Paul Bunyan wants to make sure they have people in the area to be responsive to customer needs, which means customer support and technicians nearby.

Economics are also important – they need to meet that 10+ year time for return on investment. They look a issues that define the high cost areas: distance, population density, difficult terrain and natural barriers and permitting issues (dealing with railroad crossings, forestry issues … and opportunities for low interest loans or grants as they plan.

Finally, a key driver is  engagement with a group or community that has done their homework, measured their needs and interest levels, and can provide Paul Bunyan with both valuable data on interest as well as the sense that they will be our partner in making it happen rather than a barrier.  Investment by that partner is likely important as well.

Ultimately, it works for them because they are more willing to take financial risk, borrow, make long term investments, etc., to continue the mission of providing services to those that need it.  As they said – That’s why we were formed in the first place and that continues to be our DNA.

Why does it work for Paul Bunyan?

Geography helps Paul Bunyan stay focused and committed. They served about 5,000 square miles. They are growing but managing the growth of their area so that they are able to keep customers happy. Larger providers are in a more difficult position because they have so much more ground to cover and so many more customers to keep happy, which requires a lot more upgrade/expansion projects. And they have difficult decisions on where to upgrade and serve areas where the business case is much easier than rural Minnesota.

Even for Paul Bunyan it is difficult to make long term plans because so much depends on current upgrades. One rainy month can set a project back. A hike in the cost of fiber, a delay in required permit, surprisingly tough terrain all slow down a project, which delays future projects. There’s only so much they can do at a time and again that’s where their size and ability to manage growth are assets.

If rural broadband is too expensive how can Hiawatha Broadband be doing it?

heat-mapMyth: It’s too expensive to bring high speed broadband to rural areas.
Reality: Providers are bringing high speed broadband to rural areas!

At the right is a map of broadband in Minnesota. You can see that there are communities in rural Minnesota with good broadband (colored in blue). There are a handful of providers who offer that service. Some have been kind enough to agree to talk to me about how they are able to deploy, expand and upgrade broadband networks in rural Minnesota. First to step up is Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC)– I spoke with Dan Pecarina about how they were able to support broadband in rural areas notes on that conversation.

HBC is a private company. Rural is their mission. Education, economic development and healthcare is important to their community so it is important to them. As their website states, they put people before profits – but that doesn’t mean they are a nonprofit. They are a business and they need a business case that is solvent.

What is the business case that makes sense for them?

They have done the numbers and have found that they are able to go into an area if the cost per passing is $1500 in a rural area or $1000 in a town. In a rural area, there is little competition so they have found that the are able to get 90-95 percent take rate, as opposed to 70 percent in town.

The real costs often surpass $1500/$1000. Rural areas can be tough for deployment. Some areas are built on stone, some are in valleys. The terrain can be more challenging than the distance. So they need a partner to help offset that cost. The partner could be the community or a grant like the Border to Border grant or a combination of both.

How do they decide where to go next?

  • Expansion to neighboring towns makes sense because they can more easily tie their existing infrastructure to the new community’s infrastructure.
  • Opportunities to work directly with the County help. For example HBC has worked with Dakota County to support smart-grid system. They can work together to offset setup costs.
  • A community with a drive to promote better broadband locally is also a good area for HBC. They aren’t interested in going into an area simply to provide cheaper broadband; that’s not compelling to them. But if the school, hospital, local government or even an anchor businesses is invested in making it happen that makes the area a good partner.

What is the role of wireless?

Wireless is a stop gap measure to get to areas that are not economically viable for fiber. It is a lifeline for communities where the business cane for fiber is too difficult but building wireless means building fiber middle mile to the location. It gets them closer and building a cadre of wireless customers helping build capital and future customers for fiber.

Legislation introduced on Small Cell Technology in Public Right of Way

According to the League of Minnesota Cities

Legislation introduced in both the House and Senate would restrict local authority to regulate companies seeking to install small cell wireless technology in public rights of way. The bill is being pushed by wireless carriers.

The bill, HF 739 (Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska) and SF 561 (Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound), would allow equipment to be placed on utility poles and “any other property a local government unit has an interest in and has made available for commercial purposes.” Additionally, it prevents cities from negotiating zoning, rates, permit timelines, and maintenance as it relates to the installation of emerging wireless infrastructure.

I didn’t attend that session, but I heard the folks at AT&T talk a lot about the need to deploy small cells when the industry spoke to the Minnesota House Commerce Regulatory and Reform committee. From an industry perspective, it makes sense to want to smooth the road for deploying equipment. The League offers the perspective of the local governments…

Wireless companies, including AT&T and Verizon, are lobbying for similar legislation state by state as they and other carriers prepare to install infrastructure to create a new 5G cellular network. Standards and a timeline for 5G implementation have not been set.

“Small cell facilities” is a broad term for the types of cell sites that support antennas plus other equipment to add data capacity. Small cell equipment and distributed antenna systems (DAS) transmit wireless signals to and from a defined area. They need to be powered continuously and require fiber backhaul.

The bill would allow for wireless equipment up to 28 cubic feet in size in the public right of way. Right now, there are cities that have negotiated agreements with providers, mainly in dense urban developments.

The House bill was referred to the Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. In the Senate, the bill’s first stop will be in the Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee.

House co-sponsors include Reps. Pat Garofalo (R- Farmington), Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls), Paul Thissen (D-Minneapolis), Linda Slocum (D-Richfield), Nolan West (R-Blaine), Dennis Smith (R-Maple Grove), and Jon Koznick (R-Lakeville). Senate co-authors include Sens. David Senjem (R-Rochester), John Hoffman (D-Champlin), Dan Sparks (D-Austin), and Dan Hall (R-Burnsville).

The GigaZone Comes to Deer River, Squaw Lake, Ball Club, Dora Lake, Inger, Wirt, Max, and Spring Lake!

gigazoneGood news for part of Itasca County from Paul Bunyan Communications…

The GigaZone Comes to Deer River, Squaw Lake, Ball Club, Dora Lake,

Inger, Wirt, Max, and Spring Lake!

Gigabit Internet speeds now available to more than 32,550 locations in northern Minnesota

(Bemidji, MN) (February 1, 2017) –The GigaZone has come to Deer River, Squaw Lake, Ball Club, Dora Lake, Inger, Wirt, Max, and Spring Lake!! As a result of continued upgrades to the cooperative’s all-fiber optic network over 3,150 locations 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, over 14,500 locations have been activated into the GigaZone since this past October alone. 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. We will continue to do as much as we can to bring the GigaZone to all our members and the communities we serve as fast as we can.” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.

The GigaZone is currently available to over 32,550 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.

Most 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 5,000 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 Service up to a Gigabit per second, digital and high definition television services, Smart Home services, digital voice services, and more.   Service availability depends upon location, some restrictions may apply.