The Minnesota Broadband Coalition meeting notes: great concern on RDOF, plans for 2021

Today the Minnesota Broadband Coalition met. They spoke about what’s been happening with the Legislature (no broadband funding, but exposure) and what they are working on for next year. Top priorities are to get funding for the grants (in base budget) and funding for the Office of Broadband Development.

There was a big discussion on the impact of RDOF on broadband grant applications in the hopper now. The problem is that the Office of Broadband Development (OBD) is assessing grant applications now and RDOF funding was just awarded in areas that were also included in MN grant applications. A secondary problem, is that many people are skeptical that the big winner in Minnesota (LTD Broadband) will meet the needs of the communities they propose to serve. The OBD was unable to talk about the impact of the RDOF funding but they did say that they invited applicants to remove LTD RDOF areas from their current applications.

As predicted last week by a MN Broadband Task Force member, providers being forced to look at whether they will enter a market, now slated for LTD development.

A Coalition member mentioned a potential loop hole inherent in the RDOF process.  Specifically, RDOF grants have been announced but not awarded. Grants are announced based on an applicant’s short form applications; Grants will be awarded based on whether their long forms are accepted.

The Office of Broadband Develop seems to have two choices – act as if they funds have been awarded or move forward as if they haven’t. Large swaths of unserved areas in Minnesota are in LTD proposed coverage areas. (Note blue areas in map at left below – and compare that to the map on the right, which show unserved areas in pink and served areas in green).

The RODF grants for LTD span 10 years, which means there’s the potential to put many communities in a waiting room unless/until they get coverage from LTD. But right now there’s an opportunity to help the communities who have potentially winning Minnesota grant applications.

Based on input from members, the Coalition is going to ask the OBD to move forward with grants without regard to RDOF.

Here are more complete notes on the meeting:

Part of the meeting was strategic planning, I have very high level notes on that portion…

Coalition members find they have a unified voice asking for unified action.

Top Activities for the Coalition:

  • Advocacy and Lobbying
  • Strategic Communications & Messaging
  • Strengthening the Coalition
  • Advance Speed test Efforts

I took more complete notes on the business portion of the meeting. I haven’t recorded the meetings in the past; so I didn’t today either. They record the meetings; I don’t know if they make those archives available…

Notes from Office of Broadband Development aka Discussion on RDOF

  • Congrats to folks who got funding
  • Surprised to see so many RDOF funds go to LTD
  • Currently looking at grant applications – not sure what to do on impact of State grants
    • Need to analyze project areas and the impact of the RDOF funding.
    • Applicants are offered opportunity to remove RDOF areas from their proposals
    • Hopeful that federal funds come to fruition but keeping an eye to make sure that Minnesota gets the service they deserve from the investment
  • Concern from community – our MN grant application was for fiber. We see another provider applied/got for RDOF for wireless. We don’t want wireless – will their RDOF award negative impact our state grant application?
  • RDOF process clarification: RDOF grants have been announced but not awarded. Grants are announced through an applicant’s short form; Grants will be awarded once their long forms are accepted.
  • History has shown that LTD has been awarded but unable to accept funding in the past – due to financing.
  • Senator Tina Smith’s office is working on voicing their concerns about RDOF awards – sounds like other legislators are working on it too.

Financial – I don’t take many notes except to say that they are always looking for new members.

Legislative Update 2020

  • A few weeks ago OMB projects $640M surplus for 2020-2021 – but $1.25B deficit for next biennium and that’s what the legislators are looking at.
  • So the position for broadband is not bad
  • Federal CARES has helped local government – and tax revenue is better than expected
  • The Coalition asked Special Session (yesterday) recognized the opportunity to ask for Border to Border grant funds. Nathan worked with legislators; they came up with a letter asking for $15M for grants. They sent to a number of places.
  • Bills for broadband were introduced. Legislators focused more narrowly. SO many went to businesses – not broadband.
  • So no new funding for broadband but there was exposure.

Legislative Update 2021 – 2021 Legislative Priorities and Strategy

  • Fully fund the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program
    • Past recommendations from the Governor’s Broadband Task Force have been $70 million per biennium. The Coalition will coordinate with the Task Force to determine a figure, based on outstanding unserved and underserved areas, that will keep us on track to meet statutory state speed goals.
    • Strategy: The Coalition will work with leaders in the House, Senate, and Governor’s office to pass a bipartisan funding bill for this amount during the 2021 legislative session. Traditionally broadband funding has been paid for with General Fund dollars. Because the state is facing a budget deficit, the Coalition may pursue alternative funding avenues such as federal stimulus (allocated to MN) or state bonds to secure broadband funding. The Coalition will advocate for ongoing funding to the grant program if the General Fund is used.
  • Fully Fund the Office of Broadband Development
    • Administering the Border-to-Border grant program is not possible without a fully staffed Office of Broadband Development. Funding for the Office will need to be renewed in the 2021 legislative session. The Department of Employment and Economic Development and OBD will make this request.
    • Strategy: Support DEED and OBD in their funding requests.
  • Monitor Broadband Policy Bills
    • The Border-to-Border program has invested tens of millions of dollars in rural Minnesota. It is used as a model for other states that are just starting their own broadband infrastructure programs. The Coalition will work to maintain the integrity of the program during the 2021 legislative session.
    • Strategy: The Coalition will monitor all policy bills introduced during the 2021 legislative session. The Coalition will not support legislation that allows funding carve-outs for specific internet service types, changes to the definition of served and unserved, or deletion of “wire-line” from statute. The Coalition will assess new legislation as it is introduced.

Comments:

  • $70 is for biennium, which was super helpful especially this year during pandemic.
  • Lift up request for base funding
  • There are some areas that will need more than a 50 percent match. Vantage is working on a map that might be able to show how much broadband will cost my region.

Should the Coalition make a statement on RDOF to DEED et all?

  • Look at RDOF as not being complete
  • Award grants as if RDOF hasn’t been selected yet
  • This program could implode – and when so many programs are taken off the table, the fear is that less worthy projects will get the funding.
  • The Coalition will send a letter supporting that the OBD  move ahead with awarding grants now with considering impact of RDOF.

Federal Issues

  • Usually the Coalition does not focus on federal issue – but should we?
  • Elected Officials would be open to hearing from the Coalition
This entry was posted in Funding, MN, Policy 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.

1 thought on “The Minnesota Broadband Coalition meeting notes: great concern on RDOF, plans for 2021

  1. Just one point of clarification – LTD has 3 years to deliver to 40% of each CBG not 10. It ramps 20% each year after. Meaning they have to serve approximately 200k customers by 2023. Highly unlikely. Even if they get by the long form process it’s likely they don’t meet these commitments.

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