MN Senate Jobs & Economic Growth – Broadband Update March 5

Today the Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy met; they heard from the Office of Broadband Development, Minnesota Broadband Task Force and Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition. Below are video and notes from the sessions…

Monday, March 5, 2018 – 01:00 PM
Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy
Chair: Sen. Jeremy R. Miller
Room 1150 Minnesota Senate Bldg.
Agenda: Update on Broadband

Danna Mackenzie (Office of Broadband Development) on the broadband update:

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Question: Sen Goggin

I live in an underserved areas – are you looking at the difference between what customers are billed versus the speeds we get?
Right now we gather stories but broadband is not regulated. We use our mapping tools to see if any of the federal funding is meant to come into the area. The FCC is also working on a tool that will track federally funding improvements.

Are there tools that residents can use?
Not currently. It’s what we’re tracking what’s happening with the FCC. California is also working on a tool.

Question – Sen Simonson
In the past we’ve talked about wireless. Will wireless be able to meet 100/100 goal?
Yes – wireless technology will get there at some point for some situations. MN has a lot of different topography/topology et al. So wireless may not work everywhere. Types of wireless have different characteristics – for example it can’t always go through leaves.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher (MN Broadband Task Force and MN High Tech Association)

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Question –  Sen Goggin

Workforce availability –Has there been talk about getting trained people in rural Minnesota to help get this done?
There are two barriers: supply side issue of components needs to deploy (fiber for example) and skilled labor. We haven’t heard as much about problems getting labor force. We are seeing some of this in any technical area where we have close to zero unemployment

Question – Sen Simonson

Let’s talk about math – the estimate we have here ($71 million) assumes that there’s a willing partner in each area without a partner willing to match 50 percent. How can we address that?
This is rough math. We had several people in the room. There are some areas that will be much more expensive to reach. We have to think about the highest cost areas. We may need to look at wireless options – but even for wireless you need a fiber backbone. There are private solutions that are emerging.

Nancy Hoffman (MN Rural Broadband Coalition)

Thanks for the efforts for the MN Broadband Grants. There are many members in the Broadband Coalition. Funding the grant is important to the coalition because broadband is important to rural areas. We request that the legislature fund the grants at $51.48 million. There is difficulty for the communities when the funding is precarious – it means people have to shuffle quickly to complete applications in with little notice.

In Chisago we got a grant to work with CenturyLink. Households report that they are paying half their monthly broadband bills, which makes up for the bonding they pay back in taxes. It worked so well we were able to do a similar deal with Fish Lake Township. If we had more advance warning, we could work with more communities. We now have 1.5 communities served; we just need 7.5 more done!

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