MN Broadband Task Force: working on report – questions about speeds, funds, unserved vs underserved and a request from MN Mayors

I tried to take more complete notes today in part because the recording can be difficult to watch. I have to rig up a system that would make MacGyver proud to get these sessions streamed and archived and I know they are less than perfect.

At a very high level – each of the three subcommittees presented their recommendations. There was a lot of overlap with recommendations, yet not complete agreement.

There is agreement that there should be funding for the grants and the Office of Broadband Development. There seemed to be agreement that funding should be ongoing. There weren’t any confirmed dollar amounts attached to those investments – although $75M per biennium was mentioned. From each member of the Task Force to the Governor, there seemed to be agreement tat COVID as exacerbated the demand for greater and more ubiquitous broadband.

There was disagreement on:

  • Focus on unserved versus underserved
  • Speed goals/benchmarks – from 25/3 to 100/20 to 100/100
  • Concerns about role of OBD (and others) in terms of communications, coordination and regulation

There were discussion of politic decisions such as deciding to focus on funding over change or asking for more than you think you’ll get.

9:45 a.m. Welcome, Introductions, Meeting Overview
10:00 a.m. Gov. Tim Walz conversation with the Task Force

Governor Walz spoke to the Task Force. Here are some of his observations

  • the need for broadband upload and download at industry standards has increased during COVID
  • broadband is an investment
  • there are local government commissioners that cannot participate is zoom calls
  • Because MN did not finish the border to border broadband goal before COVID, people were put at a disadvantage
  • COVID forced us to move quickly
  • Broadband funding will need to be ongoing. It’s not a problem that gets solved.

Q: Is broadband part of the proposed state budget?
A: The budget is not yet created but it seems likely and there will likely to have even stronger support

Q: How/why are schools being  held responsible for providing broadband access to un/underserved families?
A: We view broadband as regular expenses – we can’t create unequal distribution

Q: How can we
A: Cooperative have been most successful in serving rural areas. It is an economy of scale. When it’s a business decision (for national, business providers) only the math doesn’t work. When stakeholder reward is part of the equation, that changes the math.

Q: What about CARES funding?
A: CARES funding was filtered to counties and towns. More federal funding is likely.

10:30 a.m. Economic Development and Digital Inclusion Subgroup – report content and recommendations
Recommendations:

  1. Continue Minnesota’s Border to Border state broadband grant program and fund it from the base budget.
  2. Create an Office of Broadband operating fund to promote broadband adoption and use and redress digital inequity.
  3. Task the Office of Broadband Development with building computer donation partnerships between state agencies and community-based organizations getting computers into the hands of those who need them.
  4. Fully fund the Telecommunications Access Equity Aid (TEA) program by raising the funding cap to at least $9 million in order to allow school districts to equitably procure the Internet and network bandwidth needed to fully support digital learning.

[had those at the ready since I’m helping with that portion of the report]

Discussion:

  • The MN Model group is coming up with a number for funding the fund; $70M per biennium was mentioned.
  • Need to talk to  Office of BB Development about a number for funding adoption coordination.
  • Concerns that #3 might compete with ConnectedMN and/or PCs for People. Or is this more of a prioritization of tasks for OBD than funding question
  • With #4 cost per student for technology is not consistent throughout MN, which create a situation ripe for inequity.

11:15 a.m. Barriers and Technology Subgroup – report content and recommendations

  1. MN should invest is getting the 157,000 unserved households access to broadband at speeds of at least 100/20.
  2. Funding for the OBD should come from base budget and include a focus on mapping
  3. The Task Force and OBD should work with the state and providers to create greater communication channels to streamline broadband deployment.

Discussion:

  • Do we really want to focus on unserved versus underserved? (with #1)
  • There are concerns about getting into the regulations with #3. Providers prefer that broadband not be regulated by the state. BUT it looks like they are talking more about creating a clearing house for info more than regulators.

12:30 p.m. Public Comment – Duluth Mayor Emily Larson discussing the Minnesota Mayors Together letter (See the letter)

The Mayors Together group are prioritizing broadband. It’s a nonpartisan group and a nonpartisan issue. IN Duluth they have a population of 85,000 and 1200 students without access. Here are their recommendations:

  1. The first of these is speed. The 2026 goal of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, while it may have seemed aggressive when it was adopted, now looks somewhat modest. Why not recommend what the Border-to-Border grant has enabled in some areas of the state: 100 and 100?
  2. Second, we would urge the task force to tell legislators that this is an ongoing challenge, that having good access and speed is vital to all Minnesotans. As such, this investment should be a regular and recurring feature of the state’s operating budget. So, we would ask you to say that the Legislature consider the $35-50 million as an annual expenditure – for many years.

12:45 p.m. Minnesota Model Subgroup – report content and recommendations

Recommendations:

  1. $75 million per biennium
  2. No change to grants
  3. 25/3 is irrelevant
  4. No mapping changes (since change needs to happen after next year)
  5. Fund the OBD
  6. Fund the fund

Discussion

  • Where did the $75 Million come from? The 2018 TF report had a calculation that came to $70; the 2013 TF report suggested $100M. Might need to work on an estimated cost per passing to figure it out.
  • The 25/3 access isn’t irrelevant because of the demographics.
    Except 3 Mbps up during a pandemic doesn’t work for most families
    We have given legislators roadmaps with the 25/3 and 100/20 benchmarks. Is that fair to change now?
    We don’t’ need to change that just add a new benchmark moving forward?
    The pandemic will be over by mid-2021
  • Should we wait on policy changes until next year and focus only on funding this year?
  • We have another speed test that is not supporting what the OBD maps are finding so it seems like what we’re showing the legislators may not gel with the truth anyways.
  • Changing the speed goals will change reality; you can still show they outdated maps.
  • Can we change the speed goals to 100/100.
    On the ground what is the difference when designing/developing 100/100 versus 100/20?
    100/100 is fiber / 100/20 is tech neutral
    CenturyLink can provide 100/20 with copper at short distances but we cannot provide 100/100
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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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