The dust is settling at the Capitol, and it’s time to assess . The Good news is the Legislature has carved out $35 million for broadband, a significant increase over last year’s appropriation. The Bad news is that this amount falls far short of the need. And the (potentially) ugly lives with the devil in the details.
But before turning to the details I’d like to express my admiration for the many broadband proponents who made their voices heard during the session. Local media ran stories and editorials; citizens shared stories on social media; constituents contacted their representatives. A coalition of rural advocacy organizations aligned their broadband platforms and messages. Together, you kept community broadband off the chopping block and in the budget. Showing up and speaking up does make a difference.
Here are the facts of the legislation being sent to the Governor:
- Broadband budget is $35 million in Fiscal Year 2017
- No more than $5 million carved out to go to underserved areas
- Up to $1 million may be used for administrative costs
- $500,000 for low-income households
- Broadband speed goals are changed to align with recommendations from the Governor’s Broadband Task Force: 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up by 2022
- Speed goal for 2026 is 100/20
- Unserved is redefined to speeds below 25/3
- Underserved is redefined to be speeds below 100/20
- Some details around grant application have changed
- The Office of Broadband Development is expected to announce application criteria 30 days in advance (to that end they are working on a tentative meeting on June 23)
- Incumbents and providers adjacent to a community have more a formal process to challenge grant applications from competitors looking to enter their markets
- Prevailing wage requirements have been softened in the last mile deployment
So the work continues! We are already thinking about how we can work together better next year on behalf of rural community broadband needs. Here are some next steps:
- Grant details should be available in late June, we’ll watch for that
- Partners are working on webinars to discuss the details
- The Blandin Foundation is working on a meeting in the Fall to regroup, retrench and refresh for the next big push for better broadband.