It’s All Fun and Gaming With Paul Bunyan’s Gigabit Network

By Ashley Spinks, Communications Coordinator, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association

October 3, 2018

Creating and running an online gaming tournament with more than 2,500 participants is a great way to demonstrate the strength of your high-speed broadband network, and on October 20, 2018, Paul Bunyan Communications (Bemidji, Minn.) will do exactly that—for the third time.

Gamers participating in the 2017 Gigazone Gaming Tournament

Paul Bunyan calls its 5,500-square-mile fiber network the “GigaZone,” and each year the company hosts a gaming tournament featuring games like League of Legends, Overwatch, Fortnite and Discord, as well as Magic: The Gathering draft tournaments, Madden NFL competitions, arcade cabinets and more. This annual tournament, which is entirely free to attend, is an opportunity for the marketing department at Paul Bunyan to connect with a “tough-to-reach demographic,” according to marketing supervisor Brian Bissonette. Bissonette said the gaming community is fairly prominent throughout Paul Bunyan’s service area, but “they’re usually younger, so our mass-marketing and traditional ways of reaching them aren’t as successful.”

Paul Bunyan has a history of being ahead of the curve with respect to its network and creative ideas for selling that network to potential customers. Although the gaming tournament has no demonstrable quid pro quo, Bissonette said it was an easy decision for the team at Paul Bunyan to host it. Several years ago, Bissonette watched a similar event at The Forum, near Los Angeles, sell out in less than two minutes, and he knew that a gaming tournament could draw crowds to rural Minnesota.

The GigaZone Gaming Championship is more than an active advertisement for the robust broadband connection that Paul Bunyan can provide—it’s also a “relationship-building event,” Bissonette said.

Photos courtesy Paul Bunyan Communications

“Our whole attitude can be summed up as, ‘If our members are doing well, we’re doing well.’ If we can create events that bring people and attract talent to our region … that’s going to keep [local] businesses vibrant, and that keeps us vibrant,” he explained.

In describing the Paul Bunyan management team and board of directors, Bissonette said innovation is nothing new. “Our board was pretty forward-thinking. We started putting only fiber-to-the-home on all new construction and any upgrades in 2004,” he said. As all rural telco companies know, fiber networks have clear benefits over copper, particularly in terms of distance delivery and bandwidth capacity. Paul Bunyan decided to invest in fiber as early as was feasible, before the technology to deliver Gigabit speeds even existed. Bissonette said the loan program at the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service was vital to building out the network several years ago, and now Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program is supporting expansion into incredibly low-density areas.

Paul Bunyan continues to diversify the services it offers and explore new revenue opportunities, Bissonette said. Recently, after a “pretty rigorous approval process with Apple,” Paul Bunyan opened a certified Apple Service Center at its headquarters in Bemidji, becoming the only certified service center within a two-and-a-half-hour drive. Internet repair is already offered for free to members, and now Paul Bunyan’s expertly trained technicians can pair that service with repairs of Apple products. “We really wanted to jive with what we do as a cooperative,” Bissonette explained.

Providing small, modern conveniences such as Apple service is one way that rural broadband companies help America’s small towns thrive and compete with the quality of life found in larger cities.

Paul Bunyan Communications will hold its third annual GigaZone Gaming Championship October 20, 2018. You can find more information about NTCA Certified Gig-Capable Providers, such as Paul Bunyan, on our website.