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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Gigabit broadband could come to Cook yet this year

David Colburn
Posted 8/10/22

COOK- Faster internet may be coming to Cook sooner than anticipated, as Paul Bunyan Communications announced on Tuesday that there’s a good chance the system will be installed this fall, rather …

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Gigabit broadband could come to Cook yet this year


COOK- Faster internet may be coming to Cook sooner than anticipated, as Paul Bunyan Communications announced on Tuesday that there’s a good chance the system will be installed this fall, rather than next spring.
“It looks like our Cook project is going to go ahead earlier than expected,” Paul Bunyan CEO Steve Howard told the Timberjay on Tuesday. “It’s still tentative. We originally were planning to start work there late this year and then finish up next year. But the weather’s been cooperative, and things are lining up nicely to potentially start working on that project as soon as right after Labor Day, and we very likely would finish this year.”
Bemidji-based Paul Bunyan Communications received a $311,000 state Border-to-Border grant to partially fund deployment of their fiber optics GigaZone network in the community in February 2021, and after minor changes to the original proposal were approved by the Cook City Council that March, the project was slated to be completed in spring 2023. Outside of an $8,000 contribution from the city of Cook, Paul Bunyan will foot the bill for the remainder of the $700,000-plus project.
One thing hampering many new builds these days is the difficulty in getting fiber cable, with orders taking 18 to 24 months to fulfill, but Howard said that’s not a concern here.
“When the pandemic started coming we jumped in and ordered almost four years of fiber optic cable,” he said. “We still haven’t gotten all of that yet, but we’ve got a large percentage of it.”
At a speed of one gigabit of data per second, the system will be ten times as fast as the more common 100 megabits per second systems, which are also considered high-speed broadband systems when compared to the federal government’s current minimum standard of just 25 megabits per second for high-speed broadband.
Howard said the company has also put in applications for Minnesota Border-to-Border funding for two more projects in the region. One would expand an existing system serving the Side Lake area to include areas around neighboring Beatrice and Perch Lakes. The other would serve portions of Angora, Pike, Sandy, and Wuori Townships, with a tiny overlap into the extreme southern portion of Vermilion Lake Township. The system there is also an expansion of sorts, Howard said, because it will build off another tract immediately to the west for which the company received Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF) money.
With the competition for funding for unserved and underserved areas heating up, there’s no guarantee that Bunyan’s B2B applications will be funded but getting one or both would fit well with the company’s long-term plans.
“Our goal is that we want to make sure we have complete coverage of the service areas throughout the region,” Howard said. “That’s going to take many years, but we really do not want there to be like a Swiss cheese effect. We want to fill in these holes, so as we get certain projects we will often expand from them to try to fill in the holes to get the whole region covered.”
Bunyon’s RDOF award from the Federal Communications Commission has already been approved and funded, unlike the areas in the North Country that went to successful bidder LTD Communications. LTD’s application is still awaiting approval, but the company is currently being investigated by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to determine if they are capable of deploying fiber-based systems and living up to the promises in their proposal.
With that process ongoing, Howard said that the Minnesota Border-to-Border program is now accepting applications for RDOF-designated areas. The practice had been that proposed service areas could not receive both federal and state funding, and Paul Bunyan had to modify its original Cook proposal to remove a few locations that were in an RDOF-funded tract. The revised application process could speed up development possibilities for some of the affected areas.
“What will happen is that when it comes time to make an award (the state) will go ahead and check with the federal government to see if there has been any funding authorized for those areas. If the answer is no, then they will proceed with the award,” Howard said.
The FCC would still have the option to approve funding for that area to the RDOF bid winner, but Howard said it’s possible they might also exclude them because the areas would already be getting broadband service from the successful state applicant.