Bemidji phone company puts fiber on hold

Some of Minnesota’s rural phone companies have been in the forefront of extending fiber optic cable to people’s homes, enabling them to get some of the fastest broadband speeds in the state.

Federated Telephone in Madison, Federated Telephone in Morris and Paul Bunyan Communications in Bemidji have been prime examples. Don’t believe it? Just look at this map and click on Maps/Data, then Access, then check Fiber Broadband.

But those small companies and cooperatives have been wringing their hands for a while, worrying that the money they’ve used to help build networks is going to dry up in the name of extending rural broadband. Sounds odd, but it’s related to a shift in how the Federal Communications Commission is doling out money from the Universal Service Fund, a pool of money that every phone customer in the country contributes to in the name of extending phone and now broadband across rural areas. Who gets what from the fund is changing.

And, as MPR News reporter Tom Robertson reports on Morning Edition today, Paul Bunyan has gone beyond the hand-wringing stage and actually put on hold an extension of its fiber network. Four thousand potential users could be out of luck.

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