TISP Forum on Minnesota Broadband Legislation: Full Notes

Yesterday I attended the Telecommunications and Information Society Policy Forum. The topic was Minnesota Broadband Legislation – unfortunately the health exchange bill came up at the same time. The risk of engaging legislators during the session! So none of the legislators were able to make it – but it was very interesting to hear from folks who knew what was happening and folks who had questions. While it was clearly a very different discussion – it was a good one.

Thanks to Milda Hedblom for letting me post the video from the talk – I have my notes below as well…

Unfortunately the legislators cannot be here because they are working on the health exchange bill and/or testifying on bills. They would be happy to organize another event if possible – maybe next Wednesday.

Questions from Senator Matt Schmidt

  • Creating legislation based on Task Force report to call for an Office of Broadband Development
    • What direction should office take?
    • Where should the Office reside? How would it best link to economic development?
    • Dig Once has also come up.
    • Any ideas for fiber database.
    • Interested in an approach to assist with rural broadband.
      • Bill coming forward with a provision with more flexibility for local bonding authority and offering triple play. Looking for a state debt guarantee bonding authority. – Rural Broadband Authority
      • Investments in rural wireless and what would be best use of small fund that might support rural wireless improvement? ($2-3 million)

Note from JoAnne Johnson

Office of Broadband Development – what do we think? (Get more info)

Shirley Walz worked on a report comparing state broadband policies. There was some correlation between states that had a focal point in local leadership in broadband development and greater progress in those states.

HF 1255 – JoAnne Johnson & Mike O’Connor (Rick King) – aka the Broadband Alliance – spoke to Sheldon Johnson. We promote making the Office a more legitimate thing. We had these pieces in place with Diane Wells in the right chair. We’d like to see the Office get support, authority, autonomy.

The controversy is the location – does it go to MNIT, Commerce or DEED. All are OK with it but not worth fighting for. Might be nice to include Commissioner of Ag too in the subcabinet since it’s a rural issue.

The Revisor is changing the bill to DEED, not Commerce. We’d like to see the Office align with the 2009 Minnesota Broadband Task Force Report (original report).

Notes from Milda

It would be nice to get the Ag folks involved. Our current Commissioner would be interested.

Questions from Eric Lampland – what funding does the office have?

Right now it’s a line item in Commerce for $500,000 for biennium. That would pay for Diane and support. This is the first time that money has been offered.


Milda –

The subcabinet could be valuable. It’s all a question of leadership.

JoAnne –

Dig Once Policy – an effort to coordinate access to road-type rights of way. It would make sense to have a public database to store info on digging to provide everyone with access at the same time. It would allow for digging once rather

It seems like a public entity issue but does that mean public needs to share info – and private can take opportunity?

It seems as if this might be elective for local governments.

At the University of Minnesota we had a similar database – that we overhauled every two years.

It would be difficult to get private entities to go along with Dig Once – it’s a very competitive industry.

The Office will encourage and coordinate efforts for the database.

Shared trenches don’t work because of safety. You have power, gas, other utilities.

Cell Phone Fund (get more info)

Interested in investment in wireless. What would be good use of $2-3 million in rural wireless?

This could be mobile or fixed wireless. Might be nice to know which would be most useful. Assistance for critical backhaul might be useful too.

Carry ? (Verizon Wireless guy from ND, SD & MN)

Historically wireless – we’ve overcome barriers in the last 5 years. In my rural hometown we don’t have broadband. We are developing 4G on top of 3G. So any tower with 3G with have 4G LTE by the end of June. But we don’t know what’s broken until you tell us. So if you can tell us the problem areas that will help.

If we had $2-3 million, we’d look at critical need. It’s not a lot of money compared to need. You might get redundant connectivity to one tower.

What kind of public-private partnerships would work?

Let’s look at Public safety (FirstNet). Prior to FirstNet, we spoke with public entities to track where we had infrastructure and where they did. That was a first step.

Minnesota has signed into FirstNet (application is due next week).

Perhaps $2 million could help fill FirstNet gaps.

What kind of bandwidth are you working with?

We purchased 700 Mhz D block. So we’re pretty well set. We’re working on 4G.

Mark Erickson

We’re trying to build fiber to the farm. We hear from providers that wireless will work for us – we’d like to fiber and wireless. We need reliability, no caps, speed of fiber. We need mobility of wireless.

Milda –

One issue for wireless – it went to metro areas, then down the highways, now we need to cover the areas away from the highway. Maybe $2-3 million would create a pilot solution to get to some of those areas. Maybe grants will surface innovation.

Kevin O’Grady

Via wholesale agreements with Qwest and others the FCC had $28 million. We funneled that money to schools. We worked on getting to the least served communities/schools.

1255 is to be applauded – but we have legislature that runs counter to supporting (such as SF 584).

Scott from Frontier

MTA drafted SF 584. The bill requires towns to give citizens more complete description of plans before becoming a providers. Municipal providers undercut private providers. Private providers serve towns because there is a busienss case there. Then investment can be made to reach the farms a few miles out. Take away some of the take rate in the towns as well as need for marketing and it becomes more difficult for providers to investment is surrounding areas.

Up On Iron Range there was some effort to get towns connected but that would have cut off more remote areas.

Cable can move into these same areas with the same effect. Why block off municipalities? Sometimes the only provider interested in the area is the local government.

There is legislative to remove AFOR language and goals from PUC.

Now there are AFOR companies (including 3 biggest landline companies). The PUC works with the AFOR every 3 years or so with an eye to helping vendors make decision based on needs of Minnesota as well as based on business decisions.

Scott from Frontier

At one time, telecommunications providers were the only game in town. That is no longer the case; there’s wireless and cable. We are no longer the dominant force we once were – but we’re still regulated as if we are so we are at a market disadvantage.

So we see HF 584 to get the regulatory thumb off the providers but leaves them with oversight on grandma’s phone lines. Right now all of our retail voice serves are currently tariffed.

Mark Erickson

The Cities come from the perspective that we don’t’ care who brings the technology. It’s about fiber. It’s not about copper. It’s about wireless. Bandwidth is everything. We would love for the providers to invest in our areas to build fiber. We’ve talked with many of our local providers. They say they can’t. We’ve said we’re willing to pay for the network if they will run it. But they can’t. So we decide if it’s going to happen, the city if going to have to do it.

We understand that the vendors are in a tough position. But we need to get our citizens served. We’ve love to have a way for public-private partnership.

Mike Riordan (St Paul & MACTA)

Everyone says we’re being unfairly regulated. If the cities, counties & state got out of regulation and let everyone compete but everyone had to pay the same amount for ROW. Would that be insane?


There are always customers that are very hard to serve. An un-level playing field drives competition. If you had it you’d have a monopoly. From the regulators perspective we need to make sure that everyone gets some level of service.

Why would company pay for right of way when we need it to serve the city?

We now have three competitors – cable, telecommunications & wireless.

In Iow a 40 percent of phone companies are losing money. IN a decade there may be black areas.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, 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.

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