MN Broadband Task Force Meeting: Mapping, grant challenges & MN Telephone Assistance Program

Today I attended the MN Broadband Task Force meeting. I recorded (via Facebook Live) most of the meeting. But I also took notes, OBD (Office of Broadband Development) kindly shared PPTs and I have the handouts.

The high level take on the meeting:

Border to Border Challenge Process

There are still some concerns on the Border to Border challenge process. Mostly there is concern that the threat of a challenge may be discouraging some communities from applying. That means fewer applications which may falsely signal to policymakers a diminished interest in funding.

Communities hoped that rules could be altered to force challengers to provide address level data on projects used in the challenge process. Some folks are discouraged that the penalties for challengers not fulfilling upgrade promises are minimal. BUT it sounds like the OBD worked to make sure challenges were legitimate and minimized impact on projects.

Mapping

Connected Nation will begin new maps soon. They will use data from Dec 31, 2016. New maps will be out in April. Also Diane Wells gave a nice tour of maps available on the OBD website. (I use the maps often!)

MN Telephone Assistance Program (TAP)

TAP provides low income households $3.50/month to subsidize telephone access (not broadband!). Part of the rule is that TAP cannot provide more funding than Federal assistance (Lifeline). Lifeline’s subsidies for telephone access are decreasing as they are now covering broadband as well. By 2021, Lifeline will provide no support for telephone access, which means TAP will also provide no support. That will be a hit to low income household.

Legislative Update

There was a legislative update – look below for more info.

Update from Office of Broadband Development (OBD)

  • DEED getting legislative staff.
  • Looking forward to Broadband Industry conference on Thursday
  • Spoke to National Assn for Regulated Utility Administrators about work in the state.
  • Governor recommends $30 million for each year of the biennium for broadband
  • 2016 Grant info – $55 million was requested $35 was distributed

Update on Bill introductions

  • Internet service machinery – sales tax bill – not MTA or Cable bill
  • Ag reserves wants wifi for benefit of ag
  • Notice of auto-renewal for telecom services HF 515/524
  • Prevailing wage (Allowing 10 hour workday and re=evaluating job )
  • Colocation of small cell equipment
  • $130 million for border to border grants
  • Telecom equity grant program
  • Telecommuting to school allowed as an education day
  • DEED budget includes operating funds for OBD
  • HF 1290 – education expenses that are tax deductible include broadband up to $25/month
  • SF 980 – difference in match, no prevailing wage in unserved areas, no project to get more than $3 million, $35 million no more than $5 million to unserved funds
  • Telemedicine – establishing standards (HF 1314)

MTA Day on the Hill is Thursday (Feb 23) – 50 members are coming to talk about telecom

Community voice Day on the Hill (Mar 15) – getting residents to talk about the fund and impact of the fund and role broadband plays in community vitality

Library Day on the Hill (Feb 22) – broadband is part of the talking points (RLTA)

Maureen Ideker – report on past TF work

TF supported 2015 telemedicine law (for medical assistance patients in 2016) but now they are looking to expand to all patients. This is a big deal. MN’s bill is a leader as far as coverage is concerned. This change has really opened the field to new provider and new partnerships. There’s exponential growth.

Adopt minutes from Jan 26 – done

More from OBD on Challenge Process

challenge-process

There’s a flowchart of process at the OBD – Challenge progress

Within 3 days of grant closing applications would be posted on OBD website. Incumbents had 30 days to challenge. There were 42 challenges.

We had records – because at prenotification we asked applicants to

Of 62 applications that were received 3 (same applicants) were rejected because of

There were 44 challenges submitted by 13(?) providers. 28 projects were challenged. Many challenges were done by wireless provider but challenge must come from wired option.

The next step (if challenge progresses) is asking the applicant if they want to remove certain addresses from their project.

There was a process for challenges before – how different is the process now? Previously we needed to know a project was in construction or would be at the end of the year. Now the challenger has 18 months.

Do you think there are projects that will not come to fruition from challengers?
We have heard that the uncertainty is most concerning. It’s difficult to say whether we think that

Based on challenges we received we found that the strongest challenges came from providers will projects in process.

Did early notification dissuade projects?
Yes we have heard that.

There were 6 successful challenges:
3 from CenturyLInk
3 from Frontier

 

Laura Ziegler – League of MN Cities (830+ MN cities) but speaking for the MN Broadband Coalition’s letter from Oct 2016 on concerns with the Challenge process.

We’ve received positive feedback from Legislators about the OBD. We have been meeting with Legislators about continued funding for the OBD and grant funding.

We are encouraging legislators to fund the Broadband fund.

The Challenge process was first described as a incumbent “first rights of refusal” provision for broadband deployment. That opened a level of distrust. And especially considering federal funding (CAF 2).

If the intent is to start a dialog – we would prefer the previous version of challenge were used again. We heard antidotes of communities decided not to apply for funds because of concerns that incumbents would challenge.

How can we leverage CAF 2 funding with state funds?

Maybe extend the window for applications.

Do challengers have to provide address level data?
That’s not in law and OBD could not quire it

It would be more fair to require address level information from challengers.

MAK: Our process has been to not intervene with communication on recommendation after our report has been published. We like to stick to that report.

Have you heard from the Coalition after the fact?
It sounds like the OBD tried to work with applicants and challengers to keep projects as alive as possible.

We were concerned about a cycle where the challenge would dissuade proposals, diluting the pool of applications and giving legislators a false sense of lack of need.

There is concern that the penalty for challengers who don’t build out is not a strong deterrent – especially since future funding is uncertain.

We support funding projects that will meet the 2026 speed goals (100/20).

Currently 50 percent match is a restriction. Some projects require more support than 50 percent to make the business viable and help providers invest in all communities.

MAK: I was surprised at the interest in grant matching up to 70 percent. That would eat the fund very quickly. Have you heard of standards that people would be interested in setting?
We’re talking about it and how to determine what financial models will work. In hard to reach areas – it’s sometimes just a matter of recognizing that 50 percent doesn’t make the numbers work.

Map Updates – Connected Nation will be doing new maps starting with Dec 31, 2016 data and maps should be available April 2017

There is a host of maps available on the OBD website. The video covers the tutorial on the maps. I won’t try to take notes – but I use them often. They are helpful. There’s an interactive map if you want to test your address – then there’s a series of maps that show comparisons, which are available for policymakers, community leaders and broadband planners.

MAK: We need to collect and compile historical data.

We are also working on a progression map.

Connected Nation will track wired, fixed wireless and wireless. Not satellite DSL, Cable fiber, fixed mobile.

PUC to talk about Minnesota Telephone Assistance Plan (TAP) and FCC Lifeline

  • Provides support to low income households to help pay for phone access
  • Lifeline (as of Dec 2016) allows Lifeline for wired and mobile broadband administered by USAC ($9.25 per household)
    • 2015 – lifeline reforms
    • 2016 – lifeline modernization made big changes – included broadband, has a drawn down period, minimum standards, national verifier system (for application processing) and changes to
    • New Chair has suggested more changes but hasn’t been specific

TAP

  • Credit to eligible telephone subscribers up to $3.50 per month
  • Monthly TAP may not exceed the Federal Lifeline program credit.
  • Does not currently cover broadband costs

MAK: Why no broadband?
There was an explicit decision not to include broadband.

MN PUC – Collaborative Hub – does outreach and support for

  • TAP and Lifeline
  • Cold Weather rule
  • Gas Affordability Programs
  • Low Income Electric Discount Programs
  • Utility Customer Protections

Rumor has it the FCC is encouring providers to bundle telephone with broadband – does that helps the PUC?
No – the PUC provide telephone only and that funding tapers off as the FCC tapers off because the TAP cannot be larger than Federal support – and that will be zero by 2021.
We’d be happy to give a larger answer but as the way things stand today that is the answer.

The FCC National Verifier Program – a very big project
Real time, ongoing processing is a big difficulty. They are looking at ways to pilot the project.
The states most interested in a National Verifier Program are the ones without a good alternative. If they are the ones who pilot, they will have little data to challenge the database.

Minnesota PUC has an annual report – our current system is favorably reviewed. Part of that success is knowing that the follow up helps accurate processing. Working with individual providers helps. MN is above the national average.

Committees & Assignments

  • Cyber security – Kevin Hansen & Shannon Heim
  • Return on Investment – Maureen Ideker & Don Niles
  • Adoption/Affordability – Hannah Buckland & Shannon Heim

Next month we’ll hear from First Net and maybe more folks from the ROI group. Shannon’s colleague can talk about driverless cars. Also could hear on transportation.

Next meeting in March 29 but that’s a deadline day for legislation. So being close to the capitol would help. The MTA conference is that same week.

This entry was posted in Conferences, Minnesota Advisory Task Force, MN 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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