BEMIDJI -- Paul Bunyan Communications is spearheading a new regional broadband network that executives tout as one of the largest of its kind in the United States.

After weeks of relative secrecy regarding the network, Paul Bunyan CEO Gary Johnson announced the debut of “GigaZone” in a lavish ceremony on the front lawn of the cooperative’s Bemidji headquarters.

GigaZone will involve both upgrading existing fiber-optic lines and installing new ones, Johnson said. When completed in three to four years, the network will span thousands of square miles where fiberoptic users can get data at up to 1,000,000,000 bits, or one gigabit, per second.

For context, a promotional video at the event said the 1 gigabit speed is enough to download a high-definition full-length movie in two seconds.

The first gigabit lines will be live for users early next year, Johnson said.

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U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, along with U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, all sent staffers to represent them at the ceremony, as congressional votes in Washington reportedly prevented them from attending. However, the Franken and Peterson officials both read letters hailing the announcement and congratulating Paul Bunyan Communications. A video message from Klobuchar was also featured, in which she called the new network a “game-changer” for the Bemidji area.

“In the 1930s, we worked to bring electricity and telephone service into every home in America,” Klobuchar said in the video. “Today we need to put the same effort into expanding broadband. This is the infrastructure challenge of our generation.”

Gov. Mark Dayton also released a statement celebrating the announcement.

“Border-to-border access to reliable cell phone and high-speed internet coverage is essential to Minnesota’s continued economic growth,”  Dayton said. “I thank Paul Bunyan Communications for their leadership on this important project, which will improve access to high-speed internet for thousands of homes and businesses across five Minnesota counties.”

Dayton’s release touted his move along with the Legislature to invest $20 million in state money toward the Broadband Infrastructure Grant Fund in 2014, designed to bring broadband networks to “underserved” areas in Minnesota.

Greater Bemidji Director Dave Hengel compared Paul Bunyan to pioneering software giant Apple.  

“In many, many ways, Paul Bunyan Communications has become the Apple of greater Bemidji and the region, he said. “They are always on the leading edge.”

The GigaZone network will help attract businesses and workers to the area, Hengel added.

“In fact, I happen to believe that after today, our greatest competitive advantage in the greater Bemidji region will be our broadband network, thanks in very large part to the work of Paul Bunyan,” he said.