Build Me Up: Rural Internet Access with Paul Bunyan Communications
Technology has become integral to our lives. Many of us can hop on Zoom meetings, stream our favorite TV shows, and access the internet from our pockets without giving it a second thought. But according to NPR, over 21 million Americans still don’t have access to high speed internet, with many of them in rural areas.
This makes the innovations from Paul Bunyan Communications (PBC), which provides communication technology services to northern Minnesota communities, all the more important and impressive. Located in Bemidji, PBC provides one of the largest rural gigabit networks in the country. As people continue to rely on telecommuting, distance learning, telehealth, and more, communities like Bemidji are becoming sought out destinations to live.
PBC’s CEO and General Manager, Gary Johnson, was named one of Twin Cities Business’ 100 People to Know in 2016. He earned this in recognition of PBC’s innovation, growth, and continued commitment to innovative technology solutions. On the latest episode of the Build Me Up podcast, we talked to Gary Johnson; Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji, which drives development in the region; and Tracy Pogue, director of business development at KA Bemidji.
The Importance of Fiber Optics
Paul Bunyan Communications invested in its fiber optic network, known as the fastest way to transfer data, over a decade ago. For a rural community like Bemidji, it was very uncommon for a low-density population to receive this level of connection. Particularly now with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing everything online, this early investment is more than paying off for the northern Minnesota region.
When new businesses looked to Bemidji in the past, they used to prioritize the size of the local airport and other infrastructure, or the price of the land. Now, they prioritize the broadband needed to run the company and finding local talent to fill roles. Paul Bunyan Communications’ presence and commitment to the community has been a differentiating factor in the region’s economic development. More businesses and professionals are attracted to the area, with KA recently completing Delta Dental of Minnesota’s new operations center, which will employ up to 150 people.
PBC continues to expand, looking for ways to provide fiber optics to neighboring regions. The debate is no longer whether rural communities need access to high-speed internet, it is how to get it done. PBC’s newest facility in Grand Rapids, built by KA, will help support these efforts in the coming years. The 27,000-square-foot operations center sits in six acres of land and was designed to be an extension of the nature it surrounds. While COVID-19 has kept most of PBC’s employees at home, the new center will be invaluable to its expansion efforts for rural Minnesota.
To hear more about Paul Bunyan Communications and the technology challenges for rural communities, tune in to the Build Me Up podcast. You can subscribe to Build Me Up wherever you listen to podcasts.View Comments