MN HF 2695 – No more publicly owned network for you!

I’m on the road but I’ve been hearing from lots of folks about a new bill – just hot off the presses: [237.201] PUBLICLY OWNED BROADBAND SYSTEM; PROHIBITION.

Here are some snippets:

a city or a county may not use tax revenues raised within its jurisdiction or issue debt to construct, acquire, own, or operate, in whole or in part, a system to deliver broadband service.

no school district or service cooperative may use state revenues, tax revenues raised within its jurisdiction, or issue debt to construct, acquire, own, or operate, in whole or in part, a system to deliver broadband service.

And a caveat:

This section applies to a system to deliver broadband service whose construction begins after the effective date of this section, but does not apply to:
(1) the city of Minneapolis, St. Paul, or Duluth; or
(2) the maintenance or repair of a system delivering broadband service whose initial construction began before the effective date of this section, provided that the geographical area in which the system delivers broadband service is not expanded as a result of the maintenance or repair.

What’s strange is that this seems to come out of left field. Folks who watch the legislation closely seem not to have had any advanced notice. Chris Mitchell (a celebrated proponent of community networks) puts his perspective on the bill:

Much of Minnesota lacks access to next generation broadband networks — the kind of networks needed for economic development and maintaining a high quality of life. Minnesota law already discourages communities from building their own next-generation networks but they still have the authority to choose.

This bill would deny them a choice.

Too early to say too much about it. What is interesting is that this seems counter to the National Broadband Plan and the Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Task Force report, both which promote public-private partnership. Yet, this bill seems to prohibit the public sector from getting involved. Also public private partnership seemed to be rewards in the ARRA-funded projects (think locally of Southwest MN, Lac qui Parle – and plans being made in Sibley-Renville Counties). So this seems to be a step in a different direction.

Also with St Paul, Minneapolis and Duluth off the table, this is clearly aimed at rural communities.

This entry was posted in Community Networks, MN, 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 “MN HF 2695 – No more publicly owned network for you!

  1. I wonder if Representative Runbeck understands that if her bill was law several years ago when stimulus funds were available, a whole raft of public private partnerships that are now under construction would not have been legal in Minnesota. Lac qui Parle County partnered up with Farmers Mutual to ensure FTTH in that very rural county. Cook County partnered up with Arrowhead Electric Cooperative in the same way.

    RS Fiber, in Renville and Sibley Counties, announce over and over again that they would love to partner with any incumbent Internet provider in their county.

    Cable companies provide some of the fastest broadband services to MN communities. They are able to do this quite profitably for a number of reasons. First off, they only provide service in cities and more densely populated areas adjacent to cities. Their primary competition on a statewide basis is CenturyLink, Frontier and many small independent companies.

    For a variety of reasons, you rarely see any community networks forming to compete against the small independents, though you may see some in the emerging countywide efforts. Many of the small independents have now seen the possibilities of partnering with rural governments to ensure ubiquitous countywide coverage. These independents need the strengths that the local units of government can provide – bonding, long term financing, etc.

    Cable companies are in the excellent position – unregulated telecom providers serving dense markets. When viewing Minnesota as a whole, cable services are available to the vast majority of residents, probably over 80% of customers packed into some small percentage of Minnesota’s total area. They compete with telephone companies that must serve 100% of customers living all across 100% of Minnesota.

    Counties, working independently or in partnership with private telecom providers of any kind, are increasingly the key actor in helping MN reach its state broadband goals. By the way, the standard cable company broadband services fall short of the state broadband goal of 5 to 10 Mb for upload speed so they have their own work to do.

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