House Committee Meeting notes on broadband: funding, VoIP and small cell equipment

I just left the MN House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance to hear about broadband topics. I am going to leave my notes pretty rough – but I have the videos to post. The discussion on small cell equipment placement is actually on break now. They will have three more testifiers at 7:30 and unfortunately I am unable to attend.

Here are the topics:

  • HF1665 (Kresha)
    Voice over Internet protocol service and Internet protocol enabled service regulation prohibited.
  • HF739 (Hoppe)
    Small wireless facility collocation provided.
  • HF1618 (Baker)
    Broadband grant money transferred.
  • HF841 (Sandstede)
    Broadband grant program funding provided, and money appropriated.

Here are my notes (I was able to get some written notes and where I could I included them) – otherwise I’m afraid they’re rough but if I don’t get them up now it won’t happen until tomorrow night…

Rep Sandstede

Broadband is no longer a luxury. In the past the requests for funding has surpassed the funds available. Last year $35 million was available; requests were $55 million.

The Task Force recommends $100 million for a broadband bill. My bill recommends $100 million

Bill Coleman – CTAC

Good afternoon Chairman Garofalo and members of the committee.  Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on this bill.

My name is Bill Coleman and I am an independent community broadband and economic development consultant working primarily in rural Minnesota.  I help communities analyze their existing broadband services and how well these services meet current and prospective community needs.  We then identify their best options for the deployment of enhanced broadband networks that will meet, at a minimum, the 2026 state broadband goal of 100 Mb x 20 Mb.  Many of these projects have been achieved with the support of the Border to Border Broadband fund.

I am here to testify in support of a two-year appropriation of $100 million for this Program.  In each of the three past years, the fund has had applications requests well in excess of the available funding.  I believe that the demand for funding will continue to grow for three reasons.

First, the funded broadband projects have been very successful in establishing best practices for public – private partnerships.  I give credit to all of those involved – cities, counties and townships, providers of all types and the Office of Broadband for working through the details of creating these successful partnerships.  Others are easily able to adapt these legal and business models.

Second, the completion of the funded projects motivates neighboring areas to pursue and implement their own solutions.  Local elected officials tell me that they are receiving regular calls from their constituents about the need to government to do something about the availability and quality of broadband services.

Third, broadband initiatives are increasingly organized as multi-community, countywide and multi-county efforts.  For example,

  • In southwestern Minnesota, there are six counties working together on a broadband feasibility study to gather facts and determine alternatives for improving broadband across the region.
  • Similarly, in Saint Louis County, from Mountain Iron west to Hibbing and north to Orr and Nett Lake, community leaders are moving forward to determine their best options.
  • The demand for Blandin Foundation’s Feasibilty Fund grant dollars has never been higher.  Recently funded studies will soon commence in Isanti, Pope and Otter Tail Counties.  Additional applications are in process in hopes of 2017-18 DEED funding availability.

While each of these projects has a unique mix of existing broadband providers and services, prospective provider partners and demographics, they share two things in common:  a large, currently unserved rural countryside and a goal to provide high quality broadband services to all of their residents and businesses.

Local leaders are seeking long-term, high quality solutions that provide broadband access for all.  Some may argue that the FCC’s CAF2 funding is adequate for rural Minnesota.  The lack of transparency on what will be built, where and when with CAF funds is a real problem for local officials.

Many speculate that CAF2 networks, relying on last mile copper that may be half-century or older, will deliver a service that barely exceeds today’s minimum FCC broadband definitions at the high end and while leaving many others with broadband that falls short.  Others residents will be permanently left behind without an affordable or appropriate connection.  CAF2 networks, supplemented with B2B funds could help Minnesota achieve its broadband goals.

Once-promised broadband applications are increasingly common in today’s world – working from home, at-home school days, tele-health monitoring and visits – but only for the connected.   Imagine the helplessness of being told by a prospective employer that you are qualified for the job, but your home broadband connection is not.  Imagine the expense saved if you could stay in your home rather than the care center, but for the lack of a broadband connection.

Minnesotans have made use of the Border to Border Grant program over the past three years.  More are lining up to do so now.  I ask that you support this bill and provide $100 million for the Border to Border Broadband Fund so that we can continue our significant progress towards the 2026 state broadband goal.

Thank you.

Jan Keough – from Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative

Good afternoon, Chairman Garofalo and members of the Committee.  Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on this bill.

My name is Janet Keough, and I am a Supervisor for the Town of North Star, about 25 miles north of Duluth in St. Louis County.  I am also the Chair of the Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative, comprised of 7 rural townships.  Our initiative has been working since 2012 to bring broadband to our rural communities.   I am here to testify in support of a 2-year appropriation of $100 million for the Border to Border Broadband fund.

The citizens in our rural townships get internet service via mostly wireless sources that are fairly slow and expensive. None of these sources meet the current Minnesota goal of 25 Mb, and we know that none of them will be able to meet the goal of 100 Mb in 2026.  We are located in the “donut hole” between the Lake County Fiber Project to the east, Northeast Service Coop to the west, and urban services in Duluth.

Our township initiative has worked hard to be “shovel ready” for providers.  We received a Blandin Feasibility Fund grant, matched by AgStar and St Louis County, and hired consultants to help us understand the potential for providers and the costs for broadband development.  We have used the study results and repeatedly met with all of the potential providers, including Frontier, Century Link, Lake County, NESC, Coop Light and Power, and even Paul Bunyan.  All have reasons why they can’t provide better service, ranging from geography to wireless technology limitations to funding availability.

Our townships are in a landscape of hills and valleys,  lakes and rivers, and evergreen forests, making wireless extremely difficult. My 6 mile X 6 mile township has 185 residents in 83 homes.  Proximity to Duluth means that we have no free-standing businesses, clinics, or libraries.  Century Link has been honest with us that CAF2 requires them to take care of high density areas first.  They may reach my township by 2020 or not at all.

Our townships have the full span of demographic needs for broadband – students and teachers who need broadband at home, especially if e-learning takes the place of snow days.  Senior citizens need access to all manner of on-line services.

We have professionals who want broadband at home. And our Township Volunteer Fire Departments all need broadband for modern training and communication.

The St Louis County Association of Townships found that only a handful of town supervisors have adequate access to take the state required on-line training for Boards of Equalization, and many could not the training.

In many ways, the “low hanging fruit” are being taken care of……the higher density areas with public and private needs for broadband.  We are now down to the more difficult challenge to bring broadband to low density rural areas that just aren’t close enough to a city or town, and low density means expensive construction.

Rural electrification was expensive, roads and bridges are expensive, and broadband – the information highway – is expensive.  However, all of our citizens need access to high speed internet for business, health care, education, and connectivity.  These needs are growing every day.

Our multi-township group has no hope of leveraging broadband without the potential of grant funding to leverage partnerships.  I ask that you support this bill and provide $100 million for the Border to Border Broadband Fund so that we can reach rural townships such as ours and make significant progress towards border to border broadband for all.

Thank you.

From Brent Christensen – MN Telecom Alliance

There are some areas in the state where we can’t afford to serve with broadband. The state funding helps close that gap. Also the state grants have given birth to collaboration. The broadband grants have shown us what works. We are now focused on the 100/100 scalability and matching funds.

The grants are regionally dispersed.

It’s not just about the money. We do need predictability! Please fund for the biennium – so that providers can plan. MTA members have received $55 million of the $62 million that has been doled out. It has leveraged big funds.

It’s not just about grants. It’s also about the Office of Broabdand Devleopment. They are essential – with or without the funding.

Broadband mapping is essential. It has to continue. We can’t plan where to go if we don’t know where we stand.

Dan Larson – MN Rural Counties

We supported the fund with a priority on unserved areas although we understand the need for underserved areas too.

We hope there’s a budget in the middle that can provide ongoing funds for rural broadband.

Mark Erickson – League of MN Cities  (also RS Fiber)

We need public funding to grow more networks. I’ve been involved in many networks. Technology improves – the pace of change is fast and unrelenting. Last century electricity was the game changer. This century it’s broadband.

People around the country are impressed with MN.

We need the OBD.

We need the fund – but we need more. We need to fund the fund at an amount that will make the difference.

MN Association of Townships

We need the money.

We need a policy change – found in Senator Westrom’s bill. The solution was brought up to require only 25 percent match. It would be helpful to have that here.

Gary Peterson – Township President.

I live in Olmsted County. I rep almost 1 million people in MN. They will be most affected by this. My people are suffering without broadband. Poor broadband nearly lost me Billy Joel tickets. I couldn’t get them from home. My daughter in the Cities could get them immediately. I support as much money as you can put into the fund.

Question – Why is underserved defined as 25/3?
Because they don’t’ meet the 2026 goals.

Question – We are trying to do projects on the county level?
Yes. There are large projects that are happened.

Question – People ask us about wireless – is it?
MTA put the wire in wireless. The only this that’s wireless in a wireless connection is from the tower to the handset – the rest is wire. My business does Fiber to the premise where we can. We used fixed wireless where it’s too expensive to do fiber. The hope is to serve with wireless until we get the population density to use fiber.
Using existing

Fiber is a key investment we can make in Minnesota. Most people can work anywhere they have a connection.

Layman – Fiber helps a community get telework jobs – it’s more practical than hopping for a new factory.

Q – how much would it be to get everyone broadband?
The number of the Governor recommended was what we estimate – $30 million a year for 5 years.

Q – if you got $150 million could you do this faster?
You can look nationwide to see where they are doing this (NY). We were focused on incremental fixes, which takes in consideration technology changes.

Mahoney –   We have $1.6 billion surplus. We need to get this done. The chair has been against serious investment. But why don’t we use the funds in invest in the areas. The Chair has been talking up wireless – but the industry folks consistently say that only covers the last few yards. This is the electrification of Minnesota. We need to do it.

Q – I live 5 miles from St Cloud. I don’t have broadband. There are 2 houses in my cluster that can’t get broadband. Looks like we have it going by the map. But we don’t. How can we fix that?
(from Baker) We look at current infrastructure that includes copper, fiber, wireless – we need to work with CAFs. There’s some technology out there that’s going to be huge.

Q – Rural areas are losing people. How does broadband factor in?
There’s a great desire of youth to move to the Range. But there aren’t jobs. Some could join the online economy but we don’t have the infrastructure.

There is no study. We have anecdotal support. Broadband is a top issue in retaining and attracting young people.

Q – Were changes made to the grant?
Yes changes were made to the grants. There were some issues but the OBD does not suggestion language changes at this point.

Q – Were there projects that didn’t happen because of challenges?
28 challenges. 6 did not proceed because of the challenge.

Q – If I could wave a wand to get everyone 25/3 would we need to redesign the state program?
Broadband speeds are increasing incrementally. The need for speed is there.

The long-term goal is the 100/20 – so long as we’re making strides in that direction we’re OK
TO get to 25/3 is relatively easy (fiber/copper) to the to 100/20 – that’s fiber.

The program is designed to try to reach that 100/20 goal.

Baker – we need to design the program when we see the economic impact. We’ve heard that fiber is the backbone. It doesn’t have to go to every home. Wireless will help us get there. The Office of Broadband is good – but we need to re-evaluate them every two years. CAF 2 just expanded broadband near my house, it didn’t require State funding

841 moved to a later bill

HF 1665 – VoIP deregulation

Tony Mendoza –
Will speed the deployment of broadband and lead to greater regulatory certainty. It will strengthen 911 by requiring all provider to pay into 911. It will modernize telecom as other states have done.

John Dukich – MHTA
This is a strong signal that Minnesota embraces new communication technology.

Ron Elwood
If this bill just froze policy asis , we’d agree to it. BUT it’s doesn’t.

A phone call is a phone call. There’s no public policy reason to treat VoIP differently.

This takes away PUC oversight. It means the consumers are unprotected.

  • The bill – no more notice of turning off
  • No protection for geographic prices
  • No protection of price cramming (unwarranted services)
  • No protection from fly-by-night phone companies coming and going
  • No more oversight of reliability of 911
  • This overrules an earlier decision in the courts. MN legislature should defer to federal deciders.
  • This is a dereg bill – it will not provide incentive to invest in MN.
  • Please don’t move forward.

Mary Jo George – AARP

We oppose this bill.

Older folks need access to telecommunication. Subdivsion 5 is misleading – many telephone companies are transitioning to VoIP. There are blended approaches too. Consumers don’t know why they have. Consumers need quality and reliability. This says the company ca offer landline but doesn’t require it.

We know consumer demand for VoIP is growing – but there’s no evidence that this regulation is hindering investment. Consumers shouldl have protections that coexist with technology.

Q – no fiscal note – why?

Bill Grant – Dep of Commerce

I have concerns – we support existing protections outlined by Elwood and George.

It is a significant change because it regulates based on technology not the service. We run the risk of picking winners and losers here. You need to consider – is this a discussion that needs to happen now? There’s a discussion in the courts – that may nullify any decision made here.

How will this impact rates and availability? (rural areas) you need to consider increases in rural areas

Mahoney Q – Governor has vetoed or required that VoIP has come out of a bill – is this bill 1665 different from the earlier bill?
Kresha – this is an issue where I’ve been working with the Governor’s Office and I’ve worked with the MTA. There are groups that are working on this on the other side. When I make a FB call it’s not regulated.
Grant – Can’t be sure – but this bill is virtually identical to last year’s bill and he didn’t like it.

Maye Quade Q – how does this un-impede investment in broadband?
Kresha – Consmer protectsions are fine and none will go away.
So in your bill  – even a call from fiber to landline – to landline is
If you have an analog system – there are protections. If you use wireless – free market is a tool.

Q – VoIP exists. So we’re not putting regulations on new technology. It exists. So how does this impede investment?
Kresha – if my bill doesn’t go into effect, the PUC will regulate VoIP. Facebook & Google will not come here.

I still don’t see how this impacts investment in rural areas.

What about the court case?
We’re not moving anything. The first court care looked at is VoIP traditional phone? The decided that it wasn’t. SO it’s been decided.

This is the same argument as last year.

Why not wait for the court to decide?
If what we’re doing now is working

We can’t conflate what the Internet is with what a phone call is.

1665 held over.

small cell equipment placement authority

Paul Weirtz – AT&T 
This will entice investment in the area.
5G will deliver gigabit speeds. It will be a game changer.

We have been working with Bloomington. We talked to them about spending $6000. They wanted us to pay more. We are going to end up working with private companies now to find a place to put our equipment.

We are ready to spend money on equipment placement now but the regulation makes it tough.

We are not close in working with the League of MN Cities

John Dukich – MHTA

We sent a letter in support of this bill. The world is becoming increasingly wireless – we will need the infrastructure to support that. Small call technology will allow for increase in infrastructure, smart cars Internet of things.

Jay Littlejohn

I refute the claims that there are no

League of MN Cities and Utilities say no municipal roadblocks to wireless.

Duluth has poles owned by MN Power. We asked MN Power if we could put stuff on their poles, which are in the right of way. MN Power said yes.

How is negotiation going?
Not well.

Laura Zeigler – MN League of City
We are not saying no – we do

Cities want to be a partner with the deployment. They don’t want to be told what to do with the provider.

One size does not fit all. We need the flexibility.

We have met with wireless providers many times. We thought we were making progress but the providers cut off discussion.

Here are our issues:

  • Nothing in current law prohibits these deployments from happening.
  • We want to continue to control the public right of way. Statewide uniformity takes that away.
  • We manage a public asset and want to do it at the local level.
  • We need to be able to oversee and manage the public right of way to ensure that it is managed to the public benefit.
  • There are many wireless providers. And 5G requires more infrastructure – 9 times as much for 4G. We need to make sure the placement in structurally sounds. Fees are cost recovering. If a private entity wants to be on city property we need to make sure that’s OK and sometimes that takes an outside party.

We want to maintain zoning authority.

We are at the table – we want to be partners.

How would you describe the negotiations?
We offered language on Friday – we worked it out. I thought we were closer.

Discussion will continue…

Shelly Hanson

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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