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Schools in the Bemidji area get upgraded to faster Internet for free

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Students in the Bemidji area won't have as long to wait for websites to load, after their schools were upgraded to faster Internet free of charge by Paul Bunyan Communications.

All school districts covered by the company are now part of the "GigaZone" – an all fiber optic network. According to a news release, it's the region's largest and fastest network of its kind. It's also becoming one of the largest rural Gigabit networks in the country.

Paul Bunyan Communications says the GigaZone is capable of 1000 megabits per second downloads and uploads.

And Paul Bunyan Communications' IT and Development Manager Steve Howards says this upgrade won't cost the schools a penny. It's being provided at no extra charge so schools can stay within their budgets.

The provider is also offering free upgrades to schools that get their Internet from MetroEthernet.

School districts on the faster network include Red Lake, Northome, Kelliher, Black Duck, Indus, Bemidji, Laporte, Little Fork-Big Falls, Park Rapids, Greenway, Nashwauk-Keewatin, Grand Rapids and Deer River. The TrekNorth and Voyageur charger schools are also on it.

To see a map of the coverage areas, click here.

The regional network service was first announced in 2014. It had been called "a game changer for northern Minnesota," by Sen. Amy Klobuchar. And Gov. Mark Dayton said it'd be "essential to Minnesota's economic growth."

Internet in rural Minnesota

The governor's Taskforce on Broadband formed in 2010 and set a goal to bring broadband Internet access to all Minnesota residents and businesses by 2015.

According to last year's report, the goal wasn't met.

In February 2015, 91 percent of Minnesota households had broadband Internet access at a speed of at least 10 Mbps to download, the report says, but just 80 percent of rural Minnesotans had access to at least this speed.

Broadband Now says Minnesota's average Internet speed is 27.9 Mbps, and that the state is the 16th most connected state in the country.

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