Side Lake area residents are on track to have their homes and cabins wired with fiber optic cable starting this summer, thanks to a 2017 grant that Paul Bunyan Communications received from the state of Minnesota.

“The Border to Border Grant Program is provided by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to promote broadband internet to underserved or unserved areas in the state,” said Steve Howard, Paul Bunyan Communications’ Information Technology and Development Manager.

Two years ago, Paul Bunyan Communications (PBC) was awarded $802,620 to deliver broadband services to areas near the communities of Park Rapids, Bigfork and Side Lake, in Hubbard, Itasca and St. Louis counties. According to the state Office of Broadband Development’s website, “this project will improve the economic vitality of the region and bring advanced technology to areas that would likely not see state-of-the-art services without opportunities such as the Border to Border Broadband Grant.” The total eligible cost of the project is about $1.78 million.

What does all that mean for local residents?

Lightning fast broadband services lakeside.

During a recent interview, Howard pulled up a service map of the Side Lake area and provided more detail. The map uses red lines to highlight the properties around Big Sturgeon, West Sturgeon, Little Sturgeon and South Sturgeon, as the “2019 Construction Grant Area.” Another area of land to the east of the construction surrounding Side and Pickerel lakes is highlighted in green and has been designated “Possible 2019 construction, pending pre-orders.”

Howard explained, “At the time the area in red was considered unserved, while the area in green was considered served by CenturyLink. The grant will pay for 45 percent of the installation fees for the area in the red, with Paul Bunyan paying the remainder 55 percent. The area in green would be 100 percent funded by Paul Bunyan.”

PBC is encouraging property owners in both zones who are interested in bringing these services to their residences to call and get signed up early. He stressed that property owners in the green zone who are interested in installation should call and get put on the list for consideration by June 18. “We’ll look at that area in late June and see if there’s enough interest to make it a go,” Howard said.

The State Legislature set a goal of ensuring that all Minnesota homes and businesses have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of at least three megabits per second by the year 2022, with minimal speeds increasing again by the year 2026. What PBC will deliver to the Side Lake greatly exceeds the state and national minimums.

“We’ll be installing fiber optic cables that is able to deliver what we call ‘Gigabit’ services—anywhere from 20 MB to 1 GB simultaneous upload and download speed depending on the option,” Howard explained.

Installations will not happen automatically. Property owners have to call or stop in at either of PBCs offices, located in Bemidji or Grand Rapids. “We have an number of different packages, so I’d plan to spend at least 20 minutes to discuss your options,” Howard said, adding that PBC has a couple of different options for service that seasonal residents can choose from in the future—either going with a six-month contract or putting service on-hold for vacation.

“We prefer that everyone who’s interested in ordering the services gets in right away,” Howard said. “What will happen is that eventually folks find out how fast their neighbor’s service is and they’ll call us and say they want service too, but by then it’s too late. The ground is getting hard and they’ll have to wait until next season.”

Howard has been to the area on several occasions and has a good handle on the needs of residents in this lake community. He held an initial town hall meeting about four years ago and returned in March to answer questions about the process. “The residents there are very supportive of this,” he said, chuckling. “As a matter of fact, I left the last meeting twice. I got out to my car two times and they called me back in with more questions. It was great.”

Residents who are willing to commit to six months of service and have driveways that are less than one-quarter mile won’t encumber any installation fees, and the company is more than willing to work with seasonal residents. “We just ask that you tell us that you’re a seasonal resident, because if we don’t get to your property until October and immediately turn on services, you’ll end up paying for things you can’t use. Some of the people out there are also currently under contract with other providers, so we’ll work them on that too,” Howard explained. “That’s the key.”

PBC handles all the county permitting necessary for the installations and Howard said that it’s on the homeowners to let PBC know where buried services like sprinkler systems and septic systems are buried.

Property owners can expect a letter coming in the mail from PBC in the coming weeks explaining what will be happening this summer.

“Fiber home technology is the best you can get,” Howard said. “It’s good for the home value, good for the community, and good for the senior who relies on medical monitoring.”

In addition to broadband capabilities, PBC also delivers television service and phone service all on the same fiber line.

“We’re a locally owned non-profit and all our technicians and leadership is here,” Howard said. “If you have an issue, it’s handled locally. Your voice matters with us.”

To call with questions or for services, call (888) 586-3100 or visit Paul Bunyan Communications in Grand Rapids, 1220 S. Pokegama Ave, or Bemidji 1831 Anne St. NW.

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