MN Broadband Task Force – new group meets for the first time (Dec 2019)

It almost feels like the first day of high school. Some folks know the ropes but there are a lot of (very smart and qualified) freshmen in the room. So there was a lot of introductions, rules of engagement (open meeting et al) and planning for the future. It was interesting to get to know the new folks. If I wanted a Reader’s Digest version of the meeting I’d read the intros directly below and then track to the bottom for their brainstormed goals. Or you can kickback and watch the meeting in its entirety.

Welcome from Steve Grove (Commissioner of DEED)

Thank you for helping us build a better Minnesota. A tribal nations leader will be joining the Task Force soon.

This is the third iteration since 2008. We advocate and set legislative recommendations. We are proud of the Minnesota Model. We have a Governor who is interested in growing the grant program. We see broadband as part of our innovation toolkit. It will help startups, telecommuting and growing small businesses. We spend $600 million on existing business; we can spend more on entrepreneurs. We are here to help where we can – but this work is for you lead. We are here to support. Let’s think of the broadband for the next 10-15 years in Minnesota.

Detailed introductions of members

Teddy (Tewodros) Bekele at Land O’Lakes – born on a farm in Ethiopia so wary of getting into agriculture but drawn to it with an engineering degree. We need better broadband to take advantage of precision agriculture. Also on the US Board of Precision Ag.

Steve Giorgi at RAMS – on local school board and helped movement to one-on-one computer/student. Lives in NE MN. Works on legislative issues. I hope that people will recognize the unique broadband needs in NE Minnesota. It’s $35,000 per mile to get fiber to us! So the $5million limit with the MN grants have been tough.

Theresa Sunde at MediaCom – we see on the frontlines that people want broadband – they will come out on the coldest MN days. ROI is tough for a business when the costs are so expensive. We need the grants to make a difference.

Nolan Cauthen with CenturyLink – With CenturyLink & Communication Workers of America. Union steward for 4 years. Try to bring the customer’s perspective.

Bernadine Joselyn with Blandin Foundation. MA in international security from Columbia. Blandin Foundation knows that the greatest community asset is people. I focus on systems and we realized that the broadband would let rural people raise their own voices, create their opportunities and thrive.

Micah Myers with GraNet. Worked at St Cloud, built fiber network in 1997. Have had greater success working with smaller providers. Works with Broadband Alliance. We have had success getting incumbents to upgrade. Just 8 years ago my internet was dialup. That wasn’t that long ago.

Paul Weirtz at AT&T. Worked at Ohio forever then made a career move to Minnesota. Everyone for the region is based in Minneapolis so that makes it easy to tap into industry experts, especially with wireless. There was a lack of knowledge in telecommunications in the legislature. The task force has helped change that and that will help smooth the path to legislative support for better broadband.

Steve Fenske at Minnesota Association of Townships Worked in court systems in Southern MN. Broadband is as important to the roads to us – it’s everything we do when we get home.

Dave Wolf at Gardonville Cooperative Telephone. Also runs a cooperative creamer. Humbling to being the next generation of technology to the communities. Brings 50 miles of fiber to the customers per year. We serve a large dairy – they need broadband to track deliveries. Carlos Creek Winery are customers. We also support aging in place. Has a winery.

Brian Krambeer at MI Energy -Southeastern MN – about 4 customers per mile. Broadband is a game changer in rural areas. We get calls for better broadband each day. NO one wants to live in the country without broadband.

James Weikum at Arrowhead Library System – 27 public libraries. We have patrons that need to travel 75 miles to get to a library. Many of our libraries connect via NESC. We do see kids hanging out near the library for after hours wifi access. Patrons come in for broadband because there are lots of things you can’t do without broadband. We have a bookmobile – 3 years ago 35 of 60 stops couldn’t get cell coverage (down to 1 now). I can’t move my town closer to rest of the world but with broadband I can move the rest of the world closer to us!

Marc Johnson at ECMECC – teacher by training and my senior year I took classes with folks who attended via Interactive TV. School is no longer happening only in the building. Students have devices they bring home. We need for them to be able to get online. It’s a gap that slows us all down.

Shannon Heim at Moss & Barnett, P.A. Has a deep expertise in regulatory understanding and compliance also works with a number of rural providers. Anyone who says there’s just one way to get broadband is probably selling something. Fun project was working with CenturyLink on US Bank Stadium. We can’t forget urban areas and affordability.

Overview of MN Government; Basics of the Legislature
Darielle Dannen; Govt. Relations Director, DEED

Works with the Governor. Likes to be in parallel with the Task Force but won’t necessarily agree on all points.

Budget Policy Process

Summer – Bonding, policy and supplemental budget proposals developed

Fall: Initial submission to Governor

Session starts Feb 11 – will be about 4 months.

Question – do we need to work on more funds now or wait until current mn grant budget is gone?
Well is $40 million enough to get the job done?
Or can OBD manage more than $20 million per year?

Are we too late to make policy recommendations?
Not necessarily – the Task Force is separate from DEED and the Gov.

Previously this group has had recommendations on funding and policy and has expressed opinions at the Legislature.
Legislatively, the group does need to produce a report.

We could look at the goals now – for example. We have notes from the previous Task Force.

Office of Broadband Development

Diane Wells – MA from TX in Public Affairs. Worked for the State for 33 years.

What is the Minnesota Model?

  • Statutory goals
  • Mapping
  • Office of Broadband Development and Task Force
  • Mapping

Connected Nation provides the mapping. There are 112 providers – some have nondisclosure agreements. Some large providers provide only 477 data (info they need to send to federal government). If anything the map overstates the access available. We do not have to-the-address access. FCC does it to the census level – which means if one household in a census tract has access, it colors everyone as having access. The OBD gets calls from residents and then they will go back to the relevant provider and have for greater vulnerability. (I want to emphasize this because even I get calls about this and I always suggest people call the OBD; they do an amazing job!)

On the grants

$20 million for 2019 and $20 million for 2020. Biggest award is $5 million. Need to have one-to-one match. Looking for geographic diversity.

Received 80 applications requesting $70 million in funding for budget of $20 million

About the Previous Task Forces

Met monthly. Started in on the report about October. Finalized/approved report at December meeting. Meetings during the year generally supported the report. The had time for public comments. They did some travel to rural areas and different locations.

Past recommendations include…

  • Fund grants – amount varied
  • Mapping – now an unfunded mandate; comes from 3% overhead in grant appropriations
  • Suggested Cyber Security Task Force
  • Supporting other task forces or commissions
  • Sales tax exemption for providers
  • Standardizing railroad crossings

We have recommended in the past that the OBD have a budget; this hasn’t happened yet. We need some funding to invest in efforts to support broadband use.

This is a consensus document; we’ve never had a minority report.

Goals for the Task Force

  • Teddy
  • Think of 2020 – should we make a short term recommendation for more money for broadband grants?
  • Wireline vs wireless – can we give an overview and a recommendation for best uses?
  • What’s the economic opportunities for broadband organized by sector? Can we get funds in base budget?
  • How can we get the private sector involved with funding? For example maybe Ecolab wants to move services online (via sensor) but that requires broadband for customers. Can we tap into that?
  • What are barriers to deployment?
  • Shannon
  • Review speed goals and perhaps update.
  • Evaluate rural broadband in all sectors and quality of life.
  • Adoption and accessibility – who is working on it?
  • Decide about getting into cyber security. How much time to invest?
  • Tweaks to broadband grant program.
  • Marc
  • Intentionally support partnerships and move them forward
  • Cyber security – in education we see that you need to get out front of it. At least understand unintended consequences
  • Talk to people who are struggling. Get out to rural areas.
  • Aid for libraries and schools – especially schools. Look at inequity of costs
  • Jim
  • Blandin and IRRR has been doing programs, including mapping. The data apparently looks different to what the state has. Access on the ground looks different that access on the maps
  • Brian
  • Sustainable funding.
  • Maintain the Minnesota model – people want to replicate us
  • Recommendation more money for grants
  • Trying to stay technology neutral
  • There are issues with right of ways and easements – we need clarification on 238.35
  • Dave
  • Figure out what the barriers are
  • Look at some successful programs with good take rates
  • Better mapping
  • Promote age in place
  • MICE – how can we tap into things like that?
  • Steve
  • Mapping – need better accuracy
  • Understand service delivery models – get timelines for new technologies
  • Does geographic diversity for grants matter if some grants are better than others
  • DO we need a different match to reach even harder to reach areas.
  • Challenge process – we have the data to see if it makes a difference
  • Paul
  • Look at funding from surplus
  • Look at base budget
  • Look at geographic diversity
  • Keep the MN Model going for the competitive edge
  • Talk about fixed wireless from the end user perspective
  • If we have 400+ gigabit cities – what can we do to create more?
  • Micah
  • Challenge obstacles
  • Educate the public
  • Educate the public on the need to get community investment
  • Bernadine
  • Provide a report that does make a persuasive case for continued investment
  • Tell the economic development story
  • Use the meetings and report to amplify the underserved
  • Revisit the state goals
  • Look at what other states are doing
  • Tell the public the results of past investment
  • Nolan
  • About maps – at least 2 areas of CenturyLink in TCs where people have very limited connectivity. It’s easier to build out where there were horse ranches, inner city has been infrastructure.
  • Educate – maybe not everyone needs the gig access they order and we are running out of bandwidth
  • Theresa
  • Goals need to change because technology changes
  • Get testimonials
  • Get unserved first
  • Steve
  • Examine the goals
  • Educate – especially with 5G in rural areas
  • We had legislators things satellite would be the solution – we need education
  • Increase base funding
  • There was more room for middle mile in the day – we need to think about redundancy too.

Handouts from the meeting:

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Added Dec 16 – the Office of Broadband Development just posted the various PPTs and handouts:

This entry was posted in Conferences, MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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