Blandin on Broadband eNews: MN Monthly Recap: Broadband, Policy, COVID-19 (May 2020)

Broadband is a hot topic. Normally the Blandin on Broadband blog publishes around 50 articles monthly. Between March and April, there have been 250 articles. Subsequently, we have tried to organize posts to make it easier to take in the increase in information; starting with highlights:

The Minnesota Legislature is looking at increasing funding for broadband in the form of a one-time $10 million increase in broadband grants, $8 for online education and $2 million for telehealth. It has passed in the Senate and is on the House Floor. The Federal government is also working funding for broadband. https://wp.me/p3if7-66c

The Blandin Foundation will be hosting weekly online roundtables for community leaders to learn, listen or share stories about community broadband. https://wp.me/p3if7-661 Want a sneak peek at what the sessions will be like? Check out the archive of the Broadband Leadership Webinar Series. https://wp.me/P3if7-651

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Impact of COVID-19 on Education

Impact of COVID-19 on Heath Care

Impact of COVID-19 on Private Sector

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Brainerd
Brainerd Dispatch says broadband is as basic today as plumbing and electricity https://wp.me/p3if7-64s

Duluth
Addiction Services in Duluth, Rochester and Twin Cities go online https://wp.me/p3if7-61F

Duluth News Tribune  says broadband is as basic as indoor plumbing and electricity were a century ago https://wp.me/p3if7-5ZO

AT&T expands 5G to Duluth, St Cloud and Le Sueur County https://wp.me/p3if7-62Y

East Grand Forks
East Grand Forks asks MN Legislature to invest in better broadband for rural areas https://wp.me/p3if7-62R

Hibbing
Broadband and technology allow Hibbing area senior citizens to “age in place” https://wp.me/p3if7-624

Iron Range
MN’s Iron Range school buses are integral part of the distance education network https://wp.me/p3if7-63Z

Paul Bunyan’s broadband is making life easier during coronavirus on the Iron Range https://wp.me/p3if7-62n

Iron Range restaurant “to go” website launches during COVID-19 https://wp.me/p3if7-628

Residents of the Iron Range testify to value of Paul Bunyan FTTH especially during pandemic https://wp.me/p3if7-60G

Minneapolis
High school graduation in Minneapolis moves to Facebook https://wp.me/p3if7-65z

Red Wing
Invest in America after Coronavirus? Tom Friedman suggest broadband and mentions Red Wing https://wp.me/p3if7-61n

Scandia
Scandia looks for another broadband expansion grant https://wp.me/p3if7-60D

Scott County
Broadband Communities highlights Scott County’s history of broadband partners https://wp.me/p3if7-60k

South Central MN
South Central MN looking to expand use of Telepresence during pandemic and beyond https://wp.me/p3if7-615

Spring Valley
Spring Valley MN teacher describes a day without adequate broadband https://wp.me/p3if7-63F

St Cloud
St Cloud VA may be largest provider of telehealth for Veterans in the country https://wp.me/p3if7-62b

St Louis County
Treehouse Broadband Needs $150,000 to bring fixed wireless to Morse https://wp.me/p3if7-61b

Live in St Louis County? Please take a minute for a broadband speed test! https://wp.me/p3if7-60h

St Paul
Center for Victims of Torture uses technology to support patients https://wp.me/p3if7-60s

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Community broadband leaders need to keep their eyes on the prize – broadband money!  “To the Victors belongs the Spoils.”  In Andrew Jackson’s day, that meant political patronage.  Today, the spoils are fiber optics!

In addition to the $20 million (with an additional $10 million in play) of Border to Border Broadband grant funds, there is a whopping $20 billion on the table via the FCC’s Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF) coming in October.  Large areas of Minnesota are eligible for funding to be allocated via a reverse auction. https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/maps/auction-904-preliminary-eligible-areas/

The state’s broadband fund is designed to give communities input on provider proposals.  A community can choose to support applications via a single letter of support, by rallying multiple letters of community support and/or by providing direct funding.  A community could choose to write a letter of protest to the state if the service to be delivered was deemed in adequate or if the funded project would be a barrier to future fiber infrastructure investment.

The RDOF program incents fiber providers but allows fixed wireless, DSL and even satellite.  While the RDOF program offers no formal role for community engagement, there are important ways for governments to influence the results.  The community need to find a provider who will bid and, preferably, someone ready to deploy fiber optics.    At a minimum, community broadband activists should be in contact with prospective providers to see if they plan to bid and with what technology in mind.  A community could also work with a provider to get adjacent areas deployed via some combination of state, local or provider funds.  Finally, documenting the demand for broadband will help a provider to appropriately bid for the RDOF funds.

The RDOF eligibility map is a patchwork based on claims of existing services by incumbent providers.  If a provider claims one house in a census block to be served with 25 Mb/3 Mb, the entire area is deemed served making them ineligible for RDOF.  CenturyLink and Frontier are now claiming thousands of census blocks as served taking them out of the program.

Communities should work with GIS mapping experts, either consultants or their own county planning staff, to see the impact of these new service claims and to test the reality of those claims.  While there is no formal way to refute the data, communities can act by working through state and federal staff and elected officials to ensure accuracy.

Clearly these RDOF dollars will have a huge influence on broadband deployment; I believe that what a community has for infrastructure and services for the next generation will be determined by this auction.  Don’t just sit and watch.  Make this program work for your area or suffer the long-term consequences.

This entry was posted in Blandin Foundation, MN and tagged by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

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

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