MN House Committee meets to discuss broadband bill HF3029

Yesterday the Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division met to discussion HF3029. Unfortunately I was at another meeting and could attend but there is an audio archive. (Download Mp3)

Here are notes from the meeting:

HF3029 (Ecklund) – Broadband development grant program annual statutory appropriation provided, and money appropriated.
The meeting started with Rep Ecklund introducing the bill explain that the extra funds would help Minnesota get on track to making the Minnesota state speed goals by 2022.
They talked about this money being ongoing funds – not a one-time appropriation, which is different from last year. Representatives wondered how long it
They hear from:
Angie Dickison and Diane Wells spoke and their presentation was similar to what they talked about at an earlier Senate Committee. There were questions/comments:
  • How are the grants dispersed in terms of unserved/underserved areas?
    The grants can go to underserves areas. There are a number of criteria that go into scoring the applications.
  • How long will it take to get to ubiquitous coverage?
    The Task Force is looking at that issue. Their last report lead to the proposed funding.
  • How will you serve the very sparse areas and economically distressed areas?
    We will likely have to look at less than 50 percent match requirement.
  • The phone companies decide on the networks. They won’t pay for a network that won’t make money. If we help some companies and not others the others will be mad. We need a national roll out – like Nebraska.
  • Can wireless help?
    Yes. We are agnostic to technology type so long as the technology will scale to 100/100 speeds required.
  • How big a problem is gopher chewing on fiber?
    It’s an issue.

Bill Eckles, BEVCOMM

Working on getting all customers on FTTH in the next 9 years. They have received 12 grants for projects totally $9.5 million; grants have covered just less than half of that cost. On criticism of the grants is that it has been a year to year grant, which makes it hard to plan. We won’t need help forever but we need help to reach some areas.

Terry Nelson, Woodstock Communications

Have received several grants most for fiber but one for a fiber-wireless hybrid. One grant application this year was denied because of the challenge project.

  • Can consumers afford Gig access?
    Most gig customers are businesses.
  • Do we use taxpayer money to pay for business speeds?

Vince Robinson, Lincoln County Development Enterprises & MN Broadband Coalition

Representing more than 90 organizations all of walks of life. They support $30 million ongoing for broadband.

  • Are we leaving places orphaned that will be very expensive to serve?
    Yes. The program isn’t perfect but it’s very good. Right now we have a great demand for the program but there are areas that will be extremely difficult to serve and we may need to look at less than 50 percent match.
  • Will wireless help us reach areas?
    We are seeing technologies improve maybe in the future they will be able to help. Right now line of sight can be a problem in using wireless in some areas.

Mark Thell, Farmer’s Union in Carlton County

We have CenturyLink. Our local network helps us use video to see what’s happening on parts of the farm but right now we don’t have sufficient broadband to do precision ag.

Dan Larson, MN Rural Counties

His presentation was similar to what he talked about at an earlier Senate Committee. If we want to really reach the broadband goal, we should move the grants funds into the base budget of the Office of Broadband Development.

Brent Christensen, MTA

His presentation was similar to what he talked about at an earlier Senate Committee. Thank for passing Telecommuter Forward. There are 20 communities that have applied for Telecommuter Forward support.

We’re going to need to figure out whether this is for base funding.

Bill held until they get a budget target.

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