eNews: MN Monthly Recap: Broadband policy look at 2020 and 2021

Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch twice-monthly online discussion series
Blandin Foundation is kicking off a virtual series for 2021 – the Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch. The second and third Wednesdays of the month from noon to 1pm, you are invited to a shared space to talk on a given topic. Here’s what we have for January:

  • Lunch Bunch on Broadband Infrastructure Jan 13: Everything You Want to Discuss about RDOF
  • Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Equity Jan 20: Share a success story

Governor’s Broadband Task Force Approves Report, Funding Recommendations
The Broadband Task Force met three times during December with a goal to finish and approve the annual report. (They also heard about easement issues.) You can find the penultimate version of the report online. Here are their final recommendations:

  • $120 million per biennium for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program in DEED’s base budget. 
  • $700,000 for the Office of Broadband Development per biennium for staffing and program oversight.
  • Operating annual fund of $1.5 million to the Office of Broadband to address challenges to broadband access. 

Federal broadband funding may upset state grants
The results of the RDOF federal broadband funding awards are creating concern for rural communities – especially in Minnesota. The concern is that the provider who is in line to receive most of the funding in Minnesota is better known for fixed wireless but the funding is to deploy fiber.

An immediate concern is that communities submitted proposals to the Office of Broadband Development before the RDOF announcement was made and are worried that the RDOF award will impact their chances at state funding and/or require changes to their proposals to qualify for state funding. Learn more:

Updated matrix of broadband adoption projects
The matrix of Blandin Broadband Communities has just been updated! It’s a brief description of broadband adoption projects that have received Blandin Foundation support. It’s a great list if you are looking for help or inspiration for your community.

Who is using CARES Act funding for broadband?
Pew looks at what states are doing to apply CARES Act funding to expand broadband and we track what’s happening with counties and cities in Minnesota. (The State of Minnesota decided to not spend CARES funding on broadband at the state level.)

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Impact of COVID-19

Local Broadband News 

Aitkin County
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Aitkin County

Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Cook and Orr (Grizzlies Community)
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Grizzlies (Bois Forte, Cook, Orr)

Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Lower Sioux Indian Community and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
FCC Grants Additional 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window Licenses – including three in MN

Brainerd
Northern Pines Mental Health gives computers to 100 families in Brainerd

Cannon Falls
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Cannon Falls

Chisholm
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Chisholm

Cook County
AT&T to build FirstNet tower in Cook County

Ely
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Ely

Hibbing
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Hibbing

Iron Range
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Laurentian Chamber of Commerce

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Iron Range Tourism Bureau

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: East Range Joint Powers

Solving regional issues: The next step in advancing broadband in northeastern Minnesota from IRRR

Koochiching County
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Koochiching Technology Initiative

Le Sueur, Steele and Waseca Counties
Southern Minnesota looks at impact of RDOF funding to LTD in rural Le Sueur, Steele and Waseca counties

Mountain Iron Buhl
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Mt. Iron-Buhl

Renville and Sibley Counties
Catch up with RS Fiber on latest Muninetworks’ Community Broadband Bits podcast

Rock County
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Rock County

Rosemount
Rosemount City review – included broadband update through Charter

Swift County
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Swift County

Tower
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Tower Economic Development Authority

Twin Cities
US Internet unveils 2021 broadband plans for the Twin Cities

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

In any other time, I would be starting this column with a breezy Happy New Year and offering platitudes for sunny skies ahead.  Instead, uncertainty tending towards gloom fills the air in my office and over Zoom.

My hope for clear broadband skies has been crushed by the unexpected results of the FCC’s RDOF auction.  Like many, I expected that many, locally-oriented ISPs would win the majority of eligible areas adjacent to their existing fiber-served areas, thus guaranteeing a timely and smooth deployment of affordable and reliable service for a generation. Non-RDOF eligible areas would be reached through provider investment supplemented by the state’s Border to Border grant program and local public dollars.  We would achieve the Minnesota Broadband Vision – rural areas having the broadband infrastructure necessary to attract people and investment.  Communities could then focus on broadband utilization for economic competitiveness and quality of life.

Instead of this expected certainty, we must all now wait for clarity to emerge from the next steps of the FCC process.  Unfortunately, there are many questions, but few answers:

  • Will the FCC approve the engineering and financial plans of winning bidders?
  • What technology will be deployed to achieve the promised Gigabit service?
  • What is the build-out timeline?
  • What about adjacent underserved areas?
  • How will incumbent providers respond?
  • How will state and federal funders adapt their broadband programs?
  • Has the community role changed?

What are your thoughts on the implications of RDOF?  Maybe we can shred some clouds and see some sunshine.  No presentations, just shared conversation.  All are welcome!

Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch
January 13 ~  Noon to 1:00pm
Register Here (for 2nd Wednesdays on infrastructure)

Register for 3rd Wednesdays Lunch Bunch on digital use and equity here

This entry was posted in Blandin Foundation, MN 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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