An update from MN Rural Broadband Coalition…
$70 million Requested by Border-to-Border Grant Program Applicants
Saint Paul—The Office of Broadband Development received $70 million in applications for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program by the September 13, 2019 deadline. Last session the Legislature allocated $20 million to the grant program for each of the next two years. The disparity between funds needed and funds available shows that despite the Legislature’s substantial investment, there is still a great need across the state for world-class, affordable broadband networks.
The next step in the grant process is for incumbent providers to issue challenges to grant applications. Providers have until October 13, 2019 to challenge an application. Once all challenges have been submitted, the Department of Employment and Economic Development along with the Office of Broadband Development will review challenges and begin the process of selecting applicants to receive grant funding.
In 2018, the Governor’s Broadband Task Force recommended that the state would need to invest $70 million in each of the next two biennia to meet the 2022 state speed goal of 25mbps download and 3mbps upload. The Rural Broadband Coalition used this information to push legislators and the governor’s office for full funding of the broadband grant program. When the final budget bill was passed in May 2019 with $40 million for the biennium, we knew we would need to come back in 2020 and ask for an additional $30 million in ongoing funding to close the gap. The Coalition has already sent a letter to Governor Walz and administration officials indicating that additional funding will be necessary to fully connect every Minnesotan.
Revenue Forecasts Remain Strong
Minnesota Management and Budget releases monthly revenue reports and so far, the state has collected more in revenue than it expected. This indicates the economy is healthy and that a budget surplus for 2020 may be possible. Additional funding for the grant program would likely need to come from surplus funds available to the Legislature in 2020. The Coalition will be at the Legislature advocating for broadband funding, but a budget surplus would make a positive outcome more likely. We will continue to monitor these forecasts as we move closer to the 2020 legislative session.
Governor’s Broadband Task Force
Governor Walz has not appointed a new Broadband Task Force, but we anticipate an announcement in the coming weeks. The Task Force will have to work quickly once it is appointed, since a report on recommendations for funding and broadband expansion in Minnesota is due to the Legislature by year’s end. We plan to monitor Task Force meetings and determine how the Coalition might provide input to the Task Force, especially regarding any broadband policy discussions.
Government Relations Transition
As some of you already know, our principal lobbyist Judy Erickson is stepping back from her work representing the Coalition at the Capitol and the Coalition is transitioning to having Nathan Zacharias fill that role. Judy successfully represented the Coalition for two legislative sessions, helping secure multi-year funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program for the first time. During those two sessions, Nathan Zacharias worked alongside her—meeting with legislators, developing strategy, and organizing Broadband Day on the Hill. Nathan is looking forward to building on the successful work of the Coalition and will become the principal lobbyist starting in November 2019.