REGIONAL- Exercising perseverance, Paul Bunyan Communications (PBC) has secured federal funding for multiple proposed high-speed broadband projects, including one for an area north of Virginia that …
REGIONAL- Exercising perseverance, Paul Bunyan Communications (PBC) has secured federal funding for multiple proposed high-speed broadband projects, including one for an area north of Virginia that had previously been slated for future development with state Border-to-Border funds.
The $10 million award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program will help connect 3,529 people, 35 farms, and two public schools through projects in Hubbard, Itasca, and St. Louis counties, according to a joint press release from U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith.
“This federal funding will make a real difference, allowing thousands of families to access critical opportunities online while enabling farms to connect to new technologies such as precision agriculture,” Klobuchar said.
The award will cover about 75 percent of the costs, with PBC picking up the remainder, and the regions to be covered will get the company’s top of the line GigaZone broadband service.
“These areas will now not only get broadband access, they will go from slow satellite or dial up Internet to speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second and become part of one of the largest rural gigabit networks in the country,” said Gary Johnson, PBC CEO/General Manager.
“This will be a game changer for the residents in these areas,” added Steve Howard, PBC Information Technology and Development Manager.
The development north of Virginia will serve customers in Wuori, Sandy, and Pike Townships, stretching west from Hwy 169 almost to Hwy 53, east past Lax Rd., and north from the Hwy 53/169 junction to Door Rd.
PBC had to put in some extra work to get the USDA ReConnect grant after its initial application was rejected, said PBC Marketing Supervisor Brian Bissonette. The company applied for a state Border-to-Border grant for the projects instead, then later discovered the ReConnect rejection wasn’t due to the proposal, but to a minor paperwork issue with the grant application, so they resubmitted the corrected application, Bissonette said. Meanwhile, the state Border-to-Border grant came through in December, two months before the announcement of the ReConnect awards.
“And now the ReConnect3 grant has been awarded to us,” Bissonette said. “We won’t be adding many more additional locations other than what was already planned with Border-to-Border grant but the ReConnect3 grant will allow the state to reissue the funds meant for those areas to other projects so it keeps more money in Minnesota.”
And looking ahead to when the new system will be deployed, future customers shouldn’t get rid of their current internet provider any time soon.
“The one thing we aren’t sure of at this point is when we might start construction on these additional projects,” Bissonette said. “Per the grant, we have up to five years to get them done. We have several other projects already in progress or scheduled, so while it will be exciting for those who live in these areas to know access to high quality, reliable fiber optic Internet service is coming, it won’t be right away. For sure within five years but when specifically, we won’t know for a while yet. That is still to be determined. We hope sooner but that will depend upon completion of other projects we already have committed to.”
One of the company’s current projects is the deployment of high-speed broadband in Cook. PBC had hoped to complete that work before winter, but supply chain issues with equipment interfered with that plan, and work to complete the system will begin this spring.