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Paul Bunyan Communications Wins Two National Excellence Awards

Cooperative CEO Gary Johnson awarded Lifetime Achievement Award

CTO Leo Anderson and Marketing Supervisor Brian Bissonette awarded the Innovation Award

(Bemidji, MN) (February 22, 2024) –Paul Bunyan Communications has been awarded two national Excellence Awards from NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association that represents over 850 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that are leading innovative change in smart rural communities across America

James L. Bass Manager Life Achievement Award: Gary Johnson, CEO of Paul Bunyan Communications, for his 35 years at Paul Bunyan, working his way up from computer programmer to CEO. Johnson led the charge to leverage Paul Bunyan's all-fiber network and other initiatives including the Bemidji Technology Park, 218 Relocate program and GigaZone Gaming Championship and TechXpo. He has also served on several NTCA committees, the NISC Board, Calix Leadership Advisory Board as well as many local boards focused on healthcare and economic development.

Innovation Award: Leo Anderson, Chief Technology Officer, and Brian Bissonette, Marketing Supervisor, for Paul Bunyan Communications, for teaming up to create and lead the GigaZone Gaming Championship and TechXpo. The GigaZone event not only highlights Paul Bunyan's all-fiber network, but it also brings innovation to the forefront in how it connects the cooperative to school-aged gamers by showing them that the potential for successful careers in tech exist at home. Last year, Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, was the keynote speaker, thanks in large part to Anderson and Bissonette's outreach efforts.

The NTCA Excellence Awards recognize broadband providers who have exceeded expectations to support their customers and community members and to advance communications services in rural America. Winners are selected by the association's Awards Committee comprising NTCA members.

"The rural telecommunications industry is home to thousands of talented, generous and accomplished individuals and today I am delighted to recognize some of the very best," said NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield. "The 2023 Excellence Award winners exemplify the values of dedication, service and innovation in their work and communities. I want to congratulate and thank Gary, Brian, Leo, and all of the Paul Bunyan Communications team for their contributions to our industry and their communities."

"We honored to have received two NTCA Excellence Awards. We are so proud of Gary and all that he has accomplished in his 35 years with our cooperative. He has made a monumental impact on the region, the members we serve, and the industry." said Randy Frisk, Paul Bunyan Communications Board President. "We are also excited that Leo and Brian were selected for the Innovation Award. They have led the charge to create and grow the GigaZone Gaming Championship & TechXpo which is an event unlike any other. Winning two of our national association's eight annual awards, selected from nearly 900 companies is certainly an acknowledgement of the great work being done by our entire team."

About NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association is the premier association representing over 850 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that are leading innovative change in smart rural communities across America. In an era of transformative technological developments, regulatory challenges and marketplace competition, NTCA members are advancing efforts to close the digital divide by delivering robust and high-quality services over future-proof networks. Their commitment to building sustainable networks makes rural communities fertile ground for innovation in economic development, e-commerce, health care, agriculture and education, and it contributes billions of dollars to the U.S. economy each year. Visit us at

About Paul Bunyan Communications

Paul Bunyan Communications has the region's largest all fiber optic network with over 6,000 square miles throughout most of Beltrami County and portions of Aitkin, Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties. The Cooperative provides Broadband High Speed Internet Services including the GigaZone®, digital and high-definition television services, digital voice services, Residential and Business IT services, and is also the home of northern Minnesota's certified Apple Service Center.


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