Minnesota Broadband policy – are details of broadband grants slowing down funding?

According to the Mankato Free Press..

A new report is recommending another $110 million be budgeted for the effort during the 2017 legislative session that begins next week. But while lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton have had well-publicized debates over the grant funding, the telecommunications industry has been winning quieter battles that may be undermining the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, according to Dan Dorman.

“It’s really been a tough uphill battle,” said Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, which lobbies for policies that promote outstate economic development.

One of Dorman’s biggest concerns is a change in the grant program approved by the Legislature in 2016 that allows existing cable companies and other internet providers to challenge grants being sought by a new competitor looking to enter a marketplace.

The provision seemed reasonable at first blush — that existing companies could object to state aid being provided to competitors if the existing provider promised to upgrade its service.

“On the surface, a lot of legislators said, ‘Well, that sounds reasonable — let the local provider have that chance,” Dorman said. “… It sounds like it just protects the local guy, but it really is really anti-competitive and keeps the competitor out.” 

The problem is that incumbent providers can challenge most grant applications by promising that they are planning to provide better service. The promised service can be substantially slower than what the new competitor is proposing, and the existing providers don’t have to actually follow through on their promise.

He’s not the first I’ve heard touch on this subject. He goes on to point out that the 2016 grants have not yet been awarded – and that rumor has it the challenges have slowed down the process.

He also mentions a letter in the most recent Broadband Task Force report – where Greater Minnesota Partnership and 16 other organizations highlighted problems with the challenge process. In October, the group presented to the Task Force; you can see the video on that presentation below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLrCV03ni1qiQlrlVmGLdbRWPf3fNXiEGq&v=JaDt02d3ZQE

The Greater Minnesota Partnership has been involved (instrumental) in broadband policy in Minnesota – it’s unclear how involved they will remain…

Lobbying for more broadband access has probably consumed more of the Partnership’s time and resources than any other issue, and Dorman said the organization may have to pare back its efforts somewhat.

“We just can’t compete with the onslaught from the industry,” he said.

 

This entry was posted in Funding, 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.

One thought on “Minnesota Broadband policy – are details of broadband grants slowing down funding?

  1. There should be a challenge process. The whole point of the grants is to get broadband into areas which aren’t going to be served any other way. If an incumbent is already planning on building into an area without public taxpayer assistance they should get the first opportunity. This makes the grant funding go further.

    The 2016 grant awards are for construction to begin in the late spring early summer of 2017. Not having the grants awarded yet isn’t an issue. Most of the engineering design work is completed just for the grant application.

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