The use of CARES funding for broadband development is a very hot topic right now. Cities, counties, townships and school districts are all increasingly recognizing broadband access and digital equity concerns magnified by COVID-19. The short timelines and vague guidelines have caused great confusion and uncertainty across Minnesota and beyond. I am rarely at a loss for offering advice, but the possibility of claw-back by the federal government for misspent CARES funding is a real concern.
Barbara Droher Klein, superstar volunteer/part-time staff for the Le Sueur County Blandin Broadband Communities initiative, talked about how they are approaching this opportunity. They are utilizing existing fiber and tower assets to almost immediately launch some fixed wireless services in and around LeCenter and along Highway 169. They are also working to expand existing fiber to the home deployments to reach more homes, including some that were disqualified due to an incumbent’s challenge. Barbara reports that these folks are ecstatic to learn that they will get fiber to the home when they thought that they would be stuck with slower DSL while their neighbors enjoyed gigabit connections.
Dakota County requested letter of interest from the provider community and received a good response from a number of providers. The county board will be reviewing those responses and setting budgets and pursuing formal partnerships. Dakota County has used their 300+ mile fiber network to increase public access at parks, libraries and government buildings in an attempt to address access questions.
Some governments are frustrated with the short timelines and restrictive rules that limit flexibility and long-term thinking. There was some discussion that there could be an extension of timelines or new COVID response legislation. We will have to see what happens in Washington or St. Paul.
This was the last of the Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtables. Hope to see you participate in the Minnesota Broadband Conference in October!
- Joe Buttweiler: echo Barbara’s comments on Townships…same scenario in Isanti County.
- Mary Magnuson (she/her): Conference link https://blandinfoundation.org/news-room/events/broadband-2020-connected-we-stand/
- Brian Frederick: Thank you to all those involved in hosting and partaking these events!