Notes from MN Senate Hearing on broadband (SF 2448 and SF 2447): unserved vs served

Yesterday Senator Schmit introduced two broadband bills to the Senate Jobs, Agriculture, and Rural Development Committee. Actually he introduced proposed changes to SF 2448 and SF 2447.

He proposed $100 million for broadband funds. There didn’t seem to be a lot of questions about that. He proposed faster speeds goals (25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps up) and there really weren’t a lot of questions about that. He also talked about a new approach to differentiating unserved and underserved so that unserved is anyone without access to 25/3 or faster. Undererved would be anyone without access to 100/20 or faster. Those numbers align with the Minnesota Broadband Task Force report. Here is where there was discussion.

Some folks think the State should be focusing areas with the worst broadband speeds and access. Some folks think the State should also support broadband in areas where access is middling – which would include many cities and towns across the state.

Below are full notes and videos and handouts from the meeting…

Margaret Anderson Kelliher – MHTA and MN Broadband Task Force

  • This bill is about connecting all Minnesotan to broadband.
  • It is really about reaching the remote areas – the heavy lifting takes place in reaching remote areas.
  • We have leveraged $41 million in private investment in the last two years.
  • This $100 million will leverage another $100 million.
  • Updating speeds goals is important. We want to be consistent with the FCC.
  • CAF 2 funding is coming – $600 million over 5 years – but that money goes to very specific parts of the State and that is at a different speed rate (10/1) so your investment is needed.
  • Some speeds goals are too slow, some are too fast for remote areas – this 25/3 is a good middle ground and most providers will be able to provide more.
  • Minnesotans are asking for these speeds.
  • Telecom reform will come up too – and consumer protection. That is entwined with this bill too.
  • This is a great use of one-time funding.
  • You will see an ROI.

Sen Terry Bonoff

  • Q: Why are goals so far away. We need more immediacy? A: This timeline gives 5 construction seasons to build up. The OBD have been about to handle three cycles a year. Right now 80-87 percent of the state meet the goal; but that’s more like 45% in rural areas.
  • Q: What about metro areas that are not connected? Those are generally areas that can least afford to not be connected.
  • A: This has been a major point of the task force work – affordability. Cost is major barrier for non-adopters. They have access to broadband but can’t afford it. Next year we hope to bring a better plan to address affordability. Especially with public housing.
  • We just heard from PCs for People and their $10/month access and affordable computers.
  • Q: Can we consider earlier timeframe

Craig Clark – Austin

  • Criteria on underserved over unserved is leaving 98 percent of our cities out of the funding.
  • We see a landscape where rural areas have broadband and cities and towns don’t.
  • This is better than House version; it goes backwards.

Dean Bouta – Kandiyohi/Willmar

  • We have diverse economy. The ag industry need broadband – and the really need upload.
  • We lack connectivity.
  • We have 3 providers that serve DSL but due to distance they don’t work well.
  • We have businesses that can’t get the broadband they need.
  • The grant have helped. WE have two companies willing to deploy FFTH but the need the seed funding from the grants. There are small companies are willing to do it.
  • Grant recipients need two construction years. Prevailing wages is an issue. Ongoing funding _ like low interest loans would be helpful.
  • Companies like JennyO need broadband for food safety.

Sen question:

  • Upload speeds are very important – thanks for mentioning it.
  • Remote IT, recovery requires broadband.

Steve Gottwalt – MN Rural Health Association

  • Technology solves workforce and healthcare issues.
  • Access is necessary for remote tech.
  • WE endorsed the broadband vision – for telehealth and other meaningful use
  • WE must modernize telecom regulations.
  • State Policy reimburses telehealth but only where there is broadband.

Nate Burkett – Aitkin County

  • Aitkin has the worst access to broadband. I have businesses that could grow with broadband.
  • Houses do not sell in the area because they don’t have broadband.
  • Resorts need access to get vacationers.
  • Broadband has brought people together.

Owen Miller – Douglas County

  • Alexandria has a great tech system, but the students don’t have at home to do homework.
  • Telemedicine is needed for better mental health.
  • I can’t upgrade software on my computer at home.
  • We need to know when will these be accomplished?

Brent Christensen – MN Telecom Alliance

  • These goals are aspirational. They don’t make sense for the funds.
  • Definitions of served and unserved are important. WE don’t need funding going to areas that are already served.
  • We need to focus on universal access, not speed.
  • WE need to reach everyone – if we focus on the hardest to serve, the focus in midrange will see improvements too.
  • The FCC focuses on 10/1 and 25/3 not 25/3 and 100/20. We should look at synching up with the FCC.

Mike Martin – MN Cable Communications Association

  • Cable companies had submitted grant applications.
  • We question the qualifications for projects – the served and unserved.
  • WE want to see focus on unserved.
  • Underserved areas should not be competing with unserved areas.

Question from Sen Terry Bonnoff

  • Q: Can providers help with the digital divide in urban areas?
  • A: Comcast has a program for low-income households. It’s in thousands of home.
  • The FCC is looking at this area via the Lifeline program and extending that to broadband efforts.

Senator question

  • Q: Do we need to table the conversation based on the discrepancies in unserved/underserved preferences.
  • A: in 2015 the FCC definitions changed. We may need to have some conversation. It’s good to have ideas out there. We need to talk about definitions – but we want to be consistent with 204 and align with Task Force report. The OBD has received praise for their management of the grants.

Where do bills go next?

  • Goals bill will go to floor.
  • Funding bill will go to finance.

Senator Nelson

  • Can you work with these guys (MTA & MCCA) to come to an agreement?
  • We want rural areas to be poised to success. We will work on it.
  • Internet access has changed so much. I use my mobile hot spot in my apartment when I’m in St Paul. Doesn’t that count for border to border?
  • Most grants go to wired providers but some fixed wireless got grants too.
  • What speed goal do we need to be competitive? Whatever we build must be scalable to 100/100 Mbps so that should support growth.
  • Is rural sprawl really so bad? We want to support all of MN.
  • Originally we aligned with the FCC. And we’re still talking about aligning with FCC its just a matter of the numbers we use.

Senator quetion

  • We don’t’ want to pit our cities (or cities and city outskirts) against each other. We need to work out the unserved/underserved issue. There isn’t enough money to serve everyone with State funding. We need to work this out.

Sen Schmit

  • I think the bill asis is future focused. It meets our needs today. This approach will help service the most people. We are focusing on 25/3 – but we’re also trying to match speed goals with broadband funding.

We have support for funding – but we need to find something that works for everyone.

Want 2448 to pass – everyone agrees

Want 2447 to pass – everyone agrees

This entry was posted in Conferences, MN, Policy 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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