Overview of the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant for MN House Committee: Notes & Video

Today the Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division learned about the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant. They heard from:

  • Office of Broadband Development, Department of Employment and Economic Development
  • Minnesota Telecom Alliance
  • Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition

I have notes below, handouts and a video. Everyone was very pleased with the history of the grants and the Office of the Broadband Development as recognized by many as the Minnesota Model. Legislators had questions – some were very specific, some were indicators that a 101 session was a good start. Everyone seemed very positive.

Steve Grove – New Commissioner at DEED, has worked at Google & Amazon. Appreciates the need for broadband for innovation. Recognizes the much praised Minnesota broadband Model.

The Governor has budgeted $35M per year. That will help us reach the 2022 – 25/3 access goals but we need to look at the 2026 – 100/20 goals too. It will get increasingly difficult to get the far end of the digital divide.

Question: What is the definition of service? And how do we decide if it gets to all corners? My daughter bought a house near Rochester. She has bad access. My office near Rochester gets better access. And the Mayo must get better yet.
A: This is why government gets to get involved. There are market failures and we need a check and balance for private companies.

Danna Mackenzie – you bring out a good point and this proposal won’t likely help because you are talking about the underserved and we have emphasized access to unserved. In Rochester we look to competition.

Question (Sandstede): this is an equity issue, especially for students. We have students who don’t have access. Sometimes we have buses that stop at the end of their route to let kids access the bus wifi longer. This isn’t just an economic development issue.
A; Yes – education is an economic development tool

Danna Mackenzie, Director for the Office of Broadband Development

At least two schools in MN are using digital distance days today to minimize making up snow days in June.

What makes up the MN Broadband Model:

  • Speed goals
  • Mapping
  • Office of broadband development
  • Grants

Question (Layman): Looks like a good year for broadband. What was the impact of having no funding last year?
A: We couldn’t make new investments. We had awarded all available funds previously but that means we had 70 projects happening. We talked to providers about projects in the pipeline and they are there. There will likely be more projects than budget.

Question (Layman): Will there be a broadband task force?
A: The governor is still working out details. It is under consideration.

Question (Anderson): What does scalable mean?
A: What we purchase is cable of providing that level of service, although it doesn’t need to provide that level service right away.

So will the projects be more expensive to be scalable?
A: That language hasn’t changed so I don’t think so. We will see more expensive projects because we are focusing on the least (often hardest) to serve.

What happens when a big business won’t provide adequate service and a smaller company wants to come in?
A: There are no rules or laws if someone wants to overbuild. But there are federal subsidies that the incumbent provider may be able to access – but the second provider wouldn’t.

Q: Who will be responsible for the network?
A: The State won’t own the network. We partner with third parties who will own the networks. We grant them up to 50% capital expense. They must demonstrate financial stability.

Q: What about datacaps?
A: There are a range of scoring metrics – a more robust service would score higher. We also look at affordability.

Mary (KM Telecom MTA Member)
They received two MN broadband grants.
The grant leverage local and state funds. It encourages collaboration between provider and community.

Brent Christensen MTA
Giving a broadband 101
This program has worked for 4 years.

Anna Borroff – MN Cable Association
Providers work to get better access

Question (Brand) My constituents need better broadband to sell their homes.

Question (Gunther) Who invests in broadband? Big telcos? Small companies?
A: Everyone. CenturyLink has done some; townships; small companies. We spent a lot of time on the front end getting this right, and now people use it.

Brian Krambeer (My Energy, My Broadband, MN Broadband Coalition)
70+ orgs
We want base funding for broadband grants. We support continued funding.

Question (Percell) Do people pay to connect once they can access broadband?
A: Yes – a minimal change

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