MN Broadband Task Force July Meeting: MN broadband reports & draft Task Force report

Today the Task Force met to hear from the Minnesota Broadband Coalition on their recommendations for the Legislature, from the USDA and the potential of the $600 million in federal broadband funding from Bill Coleman on deployment of federal funding (CAF 2) and the impact on reaching Minnesota broadband speed goals and I talked about the community benefits of public investment in broadband.

Also, the discussed their final report – starting with a draft each committee contributed to individually. The next meeting with be September 6.

10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.  Introductions, approval of minutes, public comments

Minutes approved

10:15 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Nancy Hoffman, Chisago County EDA, Chair of the MN Rural Broadband Caucus

History of Broadband Coalition –

2015 Blandin hosted a conference and attendees came up with a broadband vision.

After the vision, there was a meeting of stakeholders. Everyone saw the need to work together for broadband. Maybe we had different reasons – but had the same goal. We try to keep bipartisan.

There are more than 70 coalition members.

In 2017 – legislators said they hadn’t heard from us – although we were there with a Day on the Hill and more. But we realized that we needed to do more. Broadband is important to many organizations but not often the top goal.

In 2018 – we hired a lobbyist to try to get some surplus funding. We are for $51 million, based on recommendations from the Task Force report. We also want speed goals of 100/20. We’d also like to see consistent and stable funding.

We testified in from of the Senate Jobs Committee with MAK from the Task Force. They came up with $15 million – authored by Sen Koran.

There was a Broadband Day on the Hill. Rep Sandy Layman got the Committee to move the meeting to that day and we talk to them. Rep Layman authored the bill for the House.

The bill was vetoed. We had bipartisan support. We sent a letter to the Governor asking for goals.

Recommendations:

  1. Continue Task Force – see more diversity (ag, bus in the field)
  2. Fund the Border to Border Fund
  3. Provide multiyear funding for grants
  4. Continue to support Office of Broadband Development
  5. Commitment to speed goals using scalable technology
  6. Review mapping
  7. Modify the challenge provider
  8. Remove or increase the cap on projects
  9. Evaluate new broadband solutions

Question: We’ve heard that the donut hole is an issue. Any thoughts?

It is an issue when some areas have access and others don’t.
In our area with have decent speeds or 10/1 in some areas – where some areas have fiber.

How about state bonding for fiber?
We haven’t talked about it with the Coalition – but in other groups we have. There are currently big barriers in the way.

10:30 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Brad Finstad, State Director, USDA Rural Development

About the USDA –

We serve hard to reach areas.

We focus on Infrastructure, partnerships and innovation. People around the country want to know more about the MN Broadband model.

We have $600 million fund for rural broadband. Still working on process and rules but here are some thoughts – they are talking grants and pilot projects. Since MN is ahead of the game, we’re hoping we will be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity.

We also have farm bill – we are ready to implement that as soon as we get it.

Question – is there an opportunity for the feds to learn from MN model?
It has been discussed. We want to leverage – so they are looking for light touch from federal angle. Give more local say in what happens. They are looking for partnerships that work.

We have 85 staff across the state. We need local partnership.

Question – $600 million – what is the mission – to reach unserved or underserved?
Yes. Broadband deployment -and pilot projects. We’ve talked about speed goals. How do you do a one size fits all when the states are in such different places?

Comment – this should go to unserved. The simpler the better. It would be slick if state, federal, funder provider 3/3/3 split. With lower population density, you just need higher grant investment.

The vitality of rural Minnesota depends on keeping pace with urban counterparts.

Question: What about mapping?
If people can choose to apply for mapping that makes sense. Maybe we don’t want to earmark money for mapping.

Is broadband a right or a privilege? Most people would say it’s a right.

11:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Update from Office of Broadband Development

Kathy has started at Office of Broadband Development. She is the grant administer. Have worked in the industry – including CenturyLink, Embark, Spring, SunTel. Started with MN Department of Public Services.

She is currently doing site visits. We look for success stories and creative problem solving.

There are CAF 2 Auction updates –

  • High cost opens on July 24 for $1.9 for 10 years. There are a couple of MN providers on the list – Roseau, some wireless, CTC, Emily, Federated, MidCo, Jaguar, Paul Bunyan, Woodstock …
  • The mobility option is coming up too.

Budget – by law agencies are required to create a budget. We’re working on that. It will be done on a high level since we know a new administration is coming in. The talk of the Task Force is part of that conversation.

Other states are looking at what we’ve done and are using it too. We might even get some good ideas from their iterations.

USDA has a meeting here a few weeks ago on Rice County Fairgrounds. We are talking more about how to share info.

Danna is now full member of BDAC. They will meet later this month.

11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Two Studies: Economic Impact of Broadband and Two Rural CAF II Exchanges

  • Ann Treacy, Treacy Information Services

We need to look at the fact that some of the calculations we’ve used in coming to $71 million estimate for building out broadband but we’ve included CAF 2 funding and CAF 2 buildout is only required to build to 10/1 – which is a far cry from the state speed goals.

But the CAF is federal funding, so that’s out of our control.

Then maybe we need to at least help the legislators understand that federal funding will not help us reach our goal. They give lip service to federal funding helping us reach our goal. It won’t.

12:00 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.  Lunch

12:30 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. Review Draft of Annual Report

We might want to focus this on what we need in the future – not just what has happened in the past. If we can get in front of the front runners for Governor and other candidates.

Economic Impact – using case study as meat of section

New Technology – lots of different options

Federal policy – important to highlight where federal funding supports local investment

State issues – we need comparison of what is happening – but we have a nice look at how MN has progressed and we can look at new views of bonding based on new technology, thoughts of technology and state bonding (revenue bonding).  Talked about bills that were introduced.

State bonding – sounds like time to open that door to build out conduit and/or fiber. Electronics may be a different issue. One of the hiccups has been the idea that you can’t bond for anything that won’t last longer than 20 years – but fiber will.

Bonds for fiber projects might be construed as a statewide model.

In education we’ve looked at state bonding ($25 million) – it will be worked through MDE. Maybe we could use a similar model.

Can we get experts in to talk about this? Who owns it? Who maintains it? These are some questions. And what are the differences between local and state bonding?

But are we setting up a situation where people might work around the broadband grants through the bond because that may open the door not to merit based projects getting funded but pet projects.

Bonding might be good is UDSA opens up their funds with a match requirement. There may be more appetite to bond for $40 million – rather than create that from elsewhere in the budget.

On mapping – we’ve carried over request for 3 percent allocation for mapping. And we’ve recommended the continuation of the Task Force.

The FCC is working on getting maps to the PUC – we need to make sure OBD has access. It might not be public friends due to level of detail.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Provide the Office of Broadband Development with full funding, on an on-going basis
  • We might want to get into greater detail. We need to recognize the fact that this office is in DEED. It’s an economic development tool and it would be good to address it.
  • We want to maintain connection with Dep of Commerce
  • Need to find a way to include/emphasize digital inclusion and help people understand digital inclusion and the role it plays.
  1. No one broadband delivery solution will serve the needs of all Minnesota residents. As the report has shown, there are still many parts of the state that connect receive even the minimum speeds required to count as connected. Once connected, ongoing investments in the infrastructure will continue to be needed to ensure Minnesota’s residents can take advantage of newer technology offerings.

    – we need to include scalability. It has been a highlight of the grant program.

  2. The Task Force also supports MNIT’s multi-year strategic plan to secure Minnesota’ IT environments.

    – keep it. What about establishing a Cyber Security Task Force? We had that in 2016 version.

  3. Ongoing biennial funding of the Border-to-Border Development Grant Program at $71.48 million per biennia until the state achieves its broadband speeds goals.

    – we want to revisit that number.
    – Let’s think about – $5 million cap. And let’s think about the 50 percent match.
    – Let’s have more data too if we can.
    – Maybe the Broadband Coalition can help with data – based on their members’ feasibility studies.
    – one hard thing about no cap – it means one project can take up the whole fund. Maybe there’s a way to weight projects that have multiple partners

  4. Continue to include a 3 percent budget allocation in the Border-to-Border Broadband Develop Grant Program for broadband mapping.
  5. Include state general obligation bonding as an additional financing tool to facilitate fiber optic cable deployment and achieve the state’s broadband speed goals.

    – We need to work on this one so that we all like the idea and we want to be clear about what we are recommending.

  6. Continue a Minnesota Broadband Task Force.
    – or create
    – let’s include a comparison of other state goals to help make the case that a Task Force helps keep the goals and policies fresh and keeps MN in leader position.

1:45 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Wrap-up/September Meeting Plans

  • Getting missing info into John by July 31
  • Each group tweak their section
  • NO meeting next month
  • Next meeting September 6 – will probably need a second meeting in September
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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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