Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee Notes from Jan 13, 2009

Earlier this week the Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee met to talk about how to take advantage of President Elect Obama’s stimulus package.

I wasn’t able to attend on January 13 – but I was able to watch and take notes today. You can watch it online too or you can read my notes…

Tamra Spielvogel, Committee Director, NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures) spoke of the anticipated federal stimulus package

It’s all about jobs. Energy was another big topic. At this point though we really only know the broad strokes – not details.

Congressman Oberstar (Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee) has put out a proposal for

  • $9.7 billion for federal buildings
  • Energy tax plan between $20-25 million

What could the stimulus package mean?

  • Funding for existing programs (with or w/o state match)
  • Funding for authorized programs that have not been funded
  • Funding for new programs
  • Tax credits of incentives
  • Loan guarantees
  • Could be use it or lose it funds – there will be an expiration
  • Likely to be additional oversight
  • May be procedural waivers – especially for infrastructure

Resources for more info:
NCSL economic stimulus 2009 http://www.ncsl.org/statefed/2009economicstimulus.htm
President-Elect Obama’s speech on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan http://change.gov/newsroom/entry/dramatic_action
Revitalizing the Economy: The Obama-Biden Plan http://change.gov/agenda/economy_agenda
Pro-Growth Policies, Not Big Government Spending & Mandates, Will Spur Our Economy by House Republican Leader John Boehner http://johnboehner.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=106125

For more questions (such as related to telecommunications) contact: neal.osten@ncls.org (It was very hard to read the screen; I hope that was the email but you could also go to NCLS web site above.)

Questions:

Q: Stimulus money – in MN 800 Mhz radio costs a lot to install especially in rural areas – prohibitively expensive for EMT folks – is there money for that sort of project?

A: No clear indication either way. They’ll provide more info as they can.

Jake Spano from US Senator Amy Klobuchar’s Office (She was in DC)

Details are sparse right now. But ideas are many.

Use existing federal formulas to turn around projects that can get started in 90-180 days. It will also focus on long term. Mentioned recent roundtable on broadband. Gave first speech in DC on high speed Internet access – especially in rural areas.

This is an important means to remain global. It’s our opportunity to build infrastructure for future generations.

The following people spoke on Energy. I didn’t take notes:

Janet Streff, Manager, State Energy Office, Office of Energy Security
Jeremy DeFiebre, Operations Supervisor, State Energy Office, Office of Energy Security
Craig Johnson, Intergovernmental Relations, League of MN Cities
Rick Evans, Government Affairs, Excel Energy

The following people spoke on Telecommunications:

Diane Wells, Manager, Telecommunications Division, MN Department of Commerce (See Diane’s written remarks)

Current BB definition is too slow. There are several current providers: telecommunications companies, a few fiber providers, cable, wireless, some municipalities, we had some BPL (BB over power lines) There is a mapping project underway that will tell us where we have BB access in the state – speed and number of providers.

There was also an Ultra High-Speed BB Task Force created to look at

  • connection speed that is reasonably needed by everyone by 2015
  • description of policies needed to meet that goal
  • ways that public/private can work together to meet goals
  • evaluation to build in redundancies, privacy, security
  • costs
  • economic development opportunities and other benefits (edu, health care)

Regulatory context: FCC says BB is info service not telecommunications service, which means we don’t regulate at the state level; the companies that provide BB make independent decisions. The government used to oversee many of these services – but the industries have changed. So we don’t have a good handle on who the providers are – but the mapping should help.

In regards to the stimulus package, we haven’t seen many details but Obama did mention BB especially in rural areas. We’ve heard support may take many forms – including grants. But does that mean grants to build infrastructure to un- and under-served areas? Or programs to stimulate BB use and demand. We can strive for 100% BB – but if people don’t have equipment necessary then you’ll never get there.

MN can work with grassroots level dispersion of funds. The Blandin Foundation has worked with local towns in Minnesota to stimulate BB use. Connected Nation has done county level teams to stimulate use in other states. CostQwest Associates is a similar company to CN.

Here are some sample BB ideas proposed to the Obama Team:

  1. OPASTCO is recommending that the stimulus package include “build-out” grants to rural telephone companies so that they can expand their networks to accommodate 25Mbps service.
  2. The CWA is recommending funding for the Broadband Data Improvement Act, for studies of broadband speeds (US & Intl & local states) programs to improve computer ownership and internet access in un-served and underserved areas.
  3. The NARUC recommends funneling funding through the states and to target that un-served and underserved areas NOT a competitive broadband network.
  4. Qwest’s proposal is for direct grants to be made to individual states to fund broadband deployment of unserved rural areas through RFPs.
  5. While Sen. Klobuchar promotes that the BB stimulus package include mechanisms to bring affordable and fast broadband to this country.

Questions:

Q: Expansion of service to libraries and lower income folks.. We have a Universal Service Funds. Could the Department of Commerce lobby the feds to funnel that money into BB?

A: The USF is currently under review. The FCC will probably look at that with the new appointment. One problem is that the mechanism for getting money is skewed. It funds a lot of good programs. One issue is the amount of money that wireless folks are able to get.

Rick King, Executive Vice-President and Chief Operations Officer, Thomson Reuters, and Chair of the Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force (See Rick’s Notes)

The Task Force is diverse – so the report should be comprehensive in November 2009. We are interested in what’s happening with Admin now and we are ready to help.

We are looking at two phases of potential support from the Obama Administration:
Shovel-ready projects will probably go to other areas in the earlier stage. But the second phase should be more appropriate for BB projects.

We need to be prepared for the second wave – which will occur soon after the first phase. Senator Klobuchar mentioned this phased approach.

BB does have a history of support and spurring the economy.

Areas of help:
Need to look at funding to make sure we don’t discourage private funding. We cannot create a competitor where unnecessary if it disuades compeition.

Not all areas are covered with BB – by any definition. We need to get those areas covered. Coverage is a key concern.

Demonstration projects especially in healthcare for remote areas are important.

Seeding public/private partnerships is another goal. It will help leverage continuing growth.

There are places in the state without redundancy – businesses need redundancy and cannot locate to areas without redundancy.

Funding Methods:

Grants, matching grants, loan guarantees, tax incentives… keep in mind that we want to encourage private funding.

BB and electronic infrastructure is as important as roads. We could alleviate traffic on roads, air, rivers with BB. Netflix is one example. It used to be you could order online but the video still came through a truck, plane or other transport. We could save money and lessen the carbon footprint if folks could simply download their videos online.

Questions:

Q: Feeling hopeful about the Task Force?

A: Yes – we’ve made progress. We have good input. We have started writing. We’re starting with video meetings. We’re heading to Greater MN in the spring.

Q: Can we get a preliminary report in Feb?

A: We will get a status in February to help with stimulus funding.

Steve Mielke, City Manager, Lakeville

What are cities doing to get ready for BB:

Three Points:

  1. There is a growing recognition for the need for BB. Cities are talking to business communities – such as in Dakota County and they are learning that BB is important. Businesses that can afford it can get it – but not always reasonably and redundancy is an issue. We had cable go out for half a day and people lost revenue. We need greater choices with multiple providers to save money. We have businesses that are looking to expand but they need BB. 35 percent of homes do some sort of business.
  2. There are municipalities that would like to build fiber. For cities to proceed they need to get over the hurdle debt financing.
  3. Local governments need to work together to meet business need. The US is not competitive. Regional or statewide network would set MN head of the game. Although places like NY have 6 main connections – since 911. We need to plan like that too. Need to direct funding to collaborative groups rather than individual cities. Should require local match.

Business need higher speeds and reasonable costs.

Questions:

Q: Are you advocating more than one provider?

A: Yes – the businesses in our community want choices.
(comments from Rick King – I didn’t mean to indicate that one provider was enough but that the government should not come in to compete with an unfair advantage.)

Q: There shouldn’t be individual ownership of highways – maybe we need to look at the model (Open Access Network). Any thoughts?

A: Some cities are considering that option. In Lakeville we are interested in an Open Access Network.

Q: Is there a difference between how a network is installed if you want Open Access or not?

Not really.

This entry was posted in Funding, MN, Open Networks, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

1 thought on “Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee Notes from Jan 13, 2009

  1. Pingback: Got any shovel-ready broadband projects? « Blandin on Broadband

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