Minnesota Broadband Task Force Latest Report is Out (Sep 2012)

The 2012 Status Report and Policy Recommendations from the Minnesota Broadband Task Force is out. It was released late last week. Here is the purpose of the report, as stated on the cover…

This document provides a compilation of baseline information the Task Force will use in preparing the 2012 Annual Report and Broadband Plan. In addition, this report includes specific recommendations for policymakers and stakeholders to consider.

It is a lead up  to the Annual Broadband Report that will be submitted in December. Here’s a Readers Digest reading of the report:

First: Progress Towards Broadband Goals:
Broadband Availability at State’s Statutory Speed Goals (provided by Connect Minnesota) measured by percent Household Availability of Broadband At Least 10Mbps Download and 6Mbps Upload. There was an increase in availability from 57.4 percent in October 2011 to 59.92 percent in April 2012.

It’s a quick look at how close the state is coming to ubiquitous access at speeds of 10-20 Mbps (download and 5-10 Mbps up) by 2015. I have to say, at 60 percent, we have a ways to go.

The Task Force is working in subcommittees; the report provides a look at what each group has been doing this year…

Locations – worked on getting the Task Force to a range of locations

Coordination Across Government Levels – have identified and contacted stakeholders and associations at the federal, state and local levels. So far focusing on “Dig Once”, rights of way and permitting issues. Their findings are summarized in the report. Here’s an excerpt…

One possible strategy for incenting existing providers to build to un- and underserved parts of Minnesota is to look at ways of reducing physical and procedural barriers to the actual construction of backhaul or “middle-mile” infrastructure. These potential areas of opportunity have roughly been categorized into two forms of Rights-of-Way (ROW) access; “Dig Once” policies and permitting processes. …

The Task Force’s next action on Dig Once will be to convene conversations with the state’s ROW managers to determine where the opportunities are to use these assets to encourage broadband construction to the un- and unserved parts of the state. The Task Force is working with the state broadband office to convene these discussions and with Connect Minnesota to identify and map where state ROW coincide with the greatest areas of broadband infrastructure need.

Best Practices/Incentives – have reviewed successful ideas from other places. Some ideas have been added as policy recommendations at the end of this report, which I’ll note below.

State of Broadband—Survey, Research, Data – have tracked resources (from Connect Minnesota to OECD) that rank or otherwise report broadband availability, speeds, and adoption. They are surveying Minnesota counties to determine: broadband specific initiatives within counties, whether high speed broadband is being used as an economic development tool, how the county may be using broadband to deliver services, what resources counties may be aware of to assist in broadband deployment or use, and whether any partnerships with other local government entities have been established to address broadband access and use.

Broadband Adoption – have tracked a number of programs aimed at promoting broadband adoption and are working on a broadband awareness website to provide access to digital inclusion tools, they have collecting info on economic impact of broadband, they have created a model of county communications directories.

Monitor/Understand Impact of FCC & PUC Decisions; Cost of Broadband – have provided a summary on activity of FCC from a Minnesota perspective. It’s a nice quick list of which providers have committed to expansion in Minnesota. They have also received a cost of broadband estimate from Elert and Associates, included below:

There’s a glimpse at specific policy recommendations. I want to include them all because I think they are the best indicator of what we’ll see in December…

Education

    • Increase funding to public libraries and schools for computer stations and Internet access to address what can be a primary access point for the “digitally disadvantaged” and reward institutions that increase hours and develop programs to improve access.
    • Award scholarship dollars for broadband access for students, especially those that meet federal poverty guidelines. Again, the playing field will be most level when all students have access to high speed Internet. (Funds could be leveraged with tax credits to companies that also subsidize these programs.)
    • Education Tax Credit for Broadband – (SF 979/HF 1237 in 2010) Expand the current list of education tax credits to include monthly broadband service. Currently, Minnesota taxpayers can receive a credit of up to $1,500 for education related expenses. This proposal would not expand the size of the credit; just the list of eligible items to include broadband service. Broadband adoption continues to be an issue with lower income residents. This credit would help increase the number of consumers who either are on the fence about getting broadband service or in a financial situation where they have to consider giving up the service.

Infrastructure Investment

    • Provide a tax credit or grant to incent broadband providers to build in unserved areas. Examples include the Mississippi broadband technology tax credit,29 the Idaho matching grant program and the Wisconsin sales tax exemption and income tax credit. Coordinate with Connect Minnesota to provide target areas that are not served and keep these areas in the forefront of the state’s efforts. Lists should be published by county/census tract at a designated frequency.
    • Extending the central office equipment exemption to the purchase of fiber optics and broadband equipment – Minnesota currently has a sales tax exemption on equipment purchased for use in a central office. The exemption does not apply to fiber optics which are necessary to deploy higher bandwidth speeds that meet the state broadband goals. The 2009 Broadband Task Force Report stated that state tax incentives encourage deployment as well as adoption (2009 Report, page 7832).
    • A program or mechanism that would coordinate rural broadband installation with State and Federal programs assisting hospitals, schools, libraries, public safety, etc. in obtaining broadband.
    • Implement a formal process (see “Dig Once” discussion above) to coordinate highway construction projects and broadband deployment. As an example, Arizona implemented SB1402 or the “Digital Arizona Highways Act of 2012” which allows the state to install broadband conduit in connection with a rural highway construction project if funding is received to cover the cost.
    • Develop a data base similar to the California Fiber Collaboration Database.The Fiber Collaboration Database allows broadband providers to view upcoming construction projects, notify Caltrans of their interest in including broadband infrastructure in the project, and provides an opportunity for collaboration among companies interested in joint trenching opportunities.

Health Care

    • Provide incentive for rural sites that collaborate together for broadband projects, telehealth services, interoperability and information exchange.

Adoption

    • Facilitate public/private partnership program(s) designed to deliver free or discounted computers to disadvantaged K-12 children in Minnesota. Examples include: provider-led discount offers (Comcast Internet Essentials, CenturyLink Internet Basics); non-profit efforts (Connect Minnesota’s Every Community Online, PC’s for People, Connect2Compete). The Connect Kentucky Computers 4 Kids (C4K) is, also, an example of a program that has successfully fostered cooperation among private partners, corporate foundations and state government to place free computers into the hands of underprivileged and disadvantaged children.
    • The Minnesota Broadband Task Force (2009 Report, page 9035) encouraged the legislature to consider public/private partnership models to make funding available for technology training, production and adoption in communities at the margins of technology. Could include training local nonprofits and agencies who work with the communities in need of digital literacy training. One example is the Washington D.C. digital inclusion grant program.

Ongoing Resources

    • In its January 2012 Report, the Task Force identified the establishment of an ongoing, post-Task Force mechanism within state government for high-speed broadband focused efforts as a future recommendation. The current consensus of the Task Force is in support of establishing such a resource; and of working to identify what type of entity would best serve the state so that a focus on broadband will remain an ongoing concern. The Task Force, therefore, will explore a variety of potential ongoing mechanisms with a plan to present and recommend options in a future report.

I wish there was something I could point to and say – that is going to make the difference. Right now I don’t know that I see any game changers on the list – unless I hear that there is some financial muscle behind some of the incentives mentioned above. The report alludes to the ARRA funding that has gone into the state over the last couple of years; that was a game changer!

It is interesting that this update is being published before the elections. Folks who want to raise the issue/opportunity of broadband in the elections could use this short list to build questions for candidates. I suspect the Task Force will cater their December report based on the results of the fall elections and will hopefully get into more details and perhaps more game changing recommendations then.

This entry was posted in MN, Policy, Research by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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