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Blazing fast: Bemidji to get gigabit fiber Internet service

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Bemidji residents will soon have access to some of the fastest Internet speeds available in Minnesota – and in the country.

Paul Bunyan Communications announced Thursday it is installing 1 gigabit per second download speed fiber Internet service in the northern Minnesota city.

What does that mean?

According to MPR News, a high definition movie that would take 10-15 minutes to download on a standard broadband connection would only take a few seconds to download on a 1 Gbps line.

The radio station says Paul Bunyan's current top download speed is 150 megabits per second. (There are 1,000 megabits in one gigabit.)

The Grand Forks Herald reports the project will upgrade current fiber lines and add new ones, and the network will take three or four years to build. The first run of lines will be active and available for use early next year, the paper says.

The service provider's regional fiber network – called the GigaZone – will be one of the largest in the country, the press release says.

In the news release, Sen. Amy Klobuchar called the network "a game changer for northern Minnesota."

"Expanding broadband is a great equalizing force for boosting rural economies," she said. "Today you don’t need to live off a major highway or in a bustling city to find a good job, start a new business, or get a high quality education but today you do need a high-speed Internet connection.”

Gov. Mark Dayton called widespread high-speed Internet availability "essential to Minnesota’s continued economic growth.”

FierceTelecom reports three main speed tiers offering the same upload and download speeds will be made available: 250 megabits per second for $60 a month; 500 Mbps for $80 a month; or 1 gigabit per second for $100 a month.

Bemidji's new speeds will be on par with new service planned for the Twin Cities. CenturyLink announced in August it would begin installing fiber Internet lines in Minneapolis and St. Paul over the next 12 months.

A week later, Itasca County set a goal of getting broadband service available for each and every one of its nearly 45,000 residents.

Internet access in rural Minnesota

The governor’s Task Force on Broadband, formed in 2010, set a goal to get every Minnesota resident and business access to broadband Internet by 2015. That’s a minimum download speed of 10-20 Megabits per second.

The country’s average is 18.2 Mbps, according to Gizmodo.

In the task force’s 2014 annual report, it noted 74.5 percent of Minnesotans now have access to that fast of Internet, or better – up from 61.5 percent one year prior. But that still leaves more than a quarter of Minnesotans with what’s been deemed unsatisfactory service – and the task force says the state is unlikely to meet its 2015 goal.

Internet access in Greater Minnesota got a boost from the Legislature this year.

Lawmakers approved $20 million in funding to better connect unserved and under-served areas of the state. The Greater MN Partnership – an advocacy group – detailed the spending.

The total was well short of the $100 million in funding proponents had hoped for, WCCO notes.

In a press release, the Partnershiup outlined the stark difference in Web access for greater Minnesota compared to the metro area, with data taken from ConnectMN. It says 92 percent of households in the Twin Cities area have “high-quality broadband” Internet access. Drive outside of the metro, and that number plummets to just 32 percent of households, the group says.

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