MN House Job Growth and Energy Committee Hearing – addressing broadband (HF3527 and HF4180)

The MN House Job Growth and Energy Committee met today in part to accommodate testimony from members of the Minnesota Broadband Coalition. It was an opportunity for folks to tell stories. The first topic (HF4180) – the recommendation to include satellite as a provider eligible for MN Broadband grant funding. The industry spokesperson mentioned that any gran funding would be spent to offset equipment on the customer’s site because the infrastructure (satellite) is already in place.

The bulk of the meeting was spent hearing from folks on the frontlines of rural Minnesota and their support of continued funding for the MN Broadband grants (HF3527). They heard from providers, students, business owners, community leaders and the healthcare industry. Their stories are captured below. (I was having trouble  sustaining a connection to the network – so there’s a backup version of the video, with limited visuals.)

Full notes…

HF4180 (Garofalo)
Satellite broadband providers made eligible for grants.

Rep from the Satellite industry:
We already have broadband. This bill would allow satellite to serve more people. We are looking at future speeds of 100 Mbps. Satellites will continue to improve. Satellite is not a silver bullet but it is a viable options.

Question Metsa: I’m worried about throttling service with data caps. If you get government funding you shouldn’t be able to do that.
Throttling has been a concern. We are looking for unlimited packages. We encourage people to download (things like videos) in the off hours. There are some big users and that can impact everything. We could work with this on you.

Question Metsa: What is cost of unlimited vs limited?
Unlimited plan is $140/month – limited is about $70/month.

Question – what have you done about reliability?
As technology improves, reliability will improve. If you run into problems please let us know. There will be issues in severe weather. Sometimes the equipment is old

How will these funds we used?
We want to serve the least served areas. GO to areas where no one else will go?

What will the money do? The satellite is already there
We might be able to underwrite some of the equipment to the customer? So equipment in the residence with a contract from resident.

Question O’Neil – So we’re looking at buying customer end equipment?
Yes. Typically installation is includes.

Comments from Garofalo:
I’m in favor. Across MN there are areas where fiber and fixed wireless that the best decision. But there are hilly areas, people with rocks where satellite is a good decision. Low population density is an issue too.

HF3527 (Layman)
Broadband grant program funding provided, and money appropriated.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher on the MN Broadband Task Force Report

  • No later than 2022 – all MN will have access to 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. Also by no later than 2026 – all MN will have access to 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up.
  • 88% MN has access to 25/3 yet only 73.5% Rural MN has access to 25/3
  • How much would it take to get MN connected? $71.4M annually over the next 4-6 years would get us there.
  • The Office of MN Broadband also needs support.

Representative Sandy Layman

  • Reliable broadband is a huge issue for my area.
  • Last year our investment leveraged $34M in private funds. This is a good balance between free market and public sector – especially where there is market failure.

Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan

  • A cooperative formed in 1952. Our goal is/was to supply members with critically communication tools.
  • We serve 5000 sq miles – nearly all is fiber. We started with fiber in 2004.
  • Fiber is a key tool is economic development. Delta Dental just chose to open an office in our areas.
  • We have a coworking space with Gig access – we have 50 entrepreneurs there.
  • We have received $4.5 million in grants – it bought $11.2 million in network expansions and means economic development to our community.
  • Broadband has made economic increase to small and large businesses.
  • We’re a progressive cooperative – yet we cannot serve everyone without creative partnerships and that means state grants.
  • The most rural people need broadband most – they are farthest from medical care. They need telemedicine.
  • There are 10 other states looking at what Minnesota is doing as a model.

Nancy Hoffman, MN Rural Broadband Coalition

  • We have more than 70 members – coming together with one voice to raise the importance of broadband
  • High speed, reliable broadband has proven economic benefits.
  • Focusing on fiber, communities are preparing for the 2026 #MNbroadband speed goals.

Hannah Erickson

  • High school students from Coleraine.
  • We fall behind in school because we can’t get online at home. There are 40 classes in my school that are only available online. But only if you have home access.
  • Many of my classes exclusively use online textbooks.
  • I have fallen behind in classes because I could get online. I could not attend remote classes. It’s upsetting and frustrating.
  • I now have broadband – but every student should have access. It would close the educational gap.

Eric Klindt, Wilkin County Commissioner and business owner

  • I can’t access livestream of a meeting like this from my home.
  • I switched to satellite – it w was good at first but then was slower than dialup.

Barb Anderseen – Allina Health

  • We serve communities across MN. We want to provide services into the patients’ homes. We can only do that when they have broadband.

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