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$17 million loan bringing broadband to rural areas

An estimated 4,000 homes and businesses in the Park Rapids telephone exchange will soon have state-of-the-art, underground fiber optic cable installed, affording high- speed Internet to all.

Paul Bunyan Communications has been granted a $17 million loan through the USDA's Rural Utility Service broadband loan program.

"As a cooperative, our mission is to provide services to members," explained Paul Bunyan Communications chief operating officer Gary Johnson. "Our model shows a demand for services," he said of the Park Rapids exchange. "It's sorely needed. This is very good news."

The project is unique in that when complete, it will not only exceed other rural areas, it will go beyond what's found in most metro areas, he said.

"Fiber to home is new technology," he said, "especially for rural areas."

Paul Bunyan Communications was notified of the loan Wednesday; timelines have yet to be determined but the project must be completed within a three-year timeframe.

The goal of the project is all un-served areas in the exchange will have the broadband option, Johnson said. "Geographically, it's a big area, and it will have a big impact," he said, citing home-based businesses and students soon able to connect to Web resources that are not accessible without broadband.

Johnson anticipates burying of cable will begin next summer, but the first areas completed won't be activated until spring of 2013.

"It's nine months from the cable going in the ground to service," he said of work to follow. Installing cable will continue in 2013.

"Fiber to premise is exciting news," Hubbard County commissioner Kathy Grell said. It will affect people from Lake George to the Wadena County line, east to the Nevis area and west to Becker County, she said of "lake homes, residences and business.

"Paul Bunyan will be a tremendous partner," she said. "They are helping us out of a dilemma."

Johnson said they expect to hire technicians and customer service reps in the Park Rapids area, but have not yet determined to what extent.

Customers who contract for Paul Bunyan telephone services will be members of the co-op, with Internet and television services available, he said.

For more information on the cooperative, go to