eNews: MN Monthly Recap: Broadband Grants & Legislation (Feb 2021)

MN DEED announces 2020 broadband grant recipients – RDOF impacts awards
The Office of Broadband announces the recipients of latest round of broadband grants. Awards of $20 million in state funding led to $45 million total investment for projects. They received 64 applications and funded 39 projects. The announcement is controversial because 10 applications were taken out of the mix because those projects are located in areas that are now potentially eligible for federal funding (RDOF).

2020 Minnesota Broadband Task Force report is out!
Here are the recommendations:

  • Continue to fund the Broadband Grant Program at a biennial amount of $120 million from the base budget each year.
  • Give the Office of Broadband Development an appropriation of $700,000 per biennium from the base budget.
  • Create an Office of Broadband operating annual fund of $1.5 million to promote broadband adoption and use and redress digital inequity.
  • Convene a working group comprised of all state agencies relating to broadband construction permitting to streamline the process, both in time to issue the permits as well as the permit application process.
  • Investigate greater oversight of railroad facilities by the Office of Pipeline Safety.

Also the Task Force met to talk about their plans for 2021.

Gov budgets $50M for broadband House & Senate look at $120M
Governor Walz released his budget for the next biennium. It includes $50 million for the MN broadband grants – for the first year of the biennium (2022). The MN House introduced a bill for $120 million over the biennium; as did the Senate.

Frontier and CenturyLink “may not” meet CAF II deployment deadlines
The CAF II program awarded funding to the nation’s larger carriers to bring broadband to unserved and underserved rural areas. Frontier accepted $283 million in funding annually and CenturyLink accepted $514 million annually. Both have reported that they “may not” have made deployment deadlines for 2020.

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Impact of COVID-19

Vendor News

Local Broadband News 

Burnsville not interested in sharing public fiber with private parties

Duluth News Tribune applauds big State broadband investment

Congrats to Duluth – a newly named top ten remote-ready city

Iron Range
New projects on the Iron Range help increase broadband use

Kandiyohi County
Kandiyohi County (MN) is looking for more fiber in 2021

Le Sueur County
The Institute for Local Self Reliance highlights the work of Le Sueur County

Northern Minnesota
Senator Klobuchar talks to Northern MN – broadband comes up

Pine and Carlton Counties
Pine and Carlton County residents run into troubles trying to stay connected

Red Wing
Internet outage in Red Wing brings us a new form of “snow day”

St Cloud
Arvig extends FTTH to 10,000 households in St Cloud, Rochester and Twin Cities

Southern Minnesota
Broadband outages in Southern Minnesota yesterday (Jan 6, 2021) make the case for redundancy

Southwest Minnesota
Sen Klobuchar talks with Southwest MN leaders about COVID leaders, such as better broadband

Swift County
Swift County Monitor looks at broadband recommendations for Biden Administration

Feasibility study near Tower MN show some areas broadband ready – but will federal RDOF funding for LTD change the equation?

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Broadband funding is already included and will be expanded in future pandemic and economic stimulus packages. I expect that there will be significant funding linked to both telehealth and distance learning programs.  Minnesotans should be getting ready now to win these funds for infrastructure and adoption projects, but I don’t see anyone leading an effort!

For middle mile infrastructure, the Northeast Service Cooperative serves as a model.  Schools are linked via a multi-Gigabit network as are local units of government and health care providers.  As an open access fiber network, NESC eases competitive entry for small and large broadband providers to deliver Gigabit services anywhere in the region.  Thanks to the vision of NESC’s leadership, the project was funded through Obama stimulus programs. The benefits of the network are adding up with untapped exponential potential in future years.  Minnesota needs more of this.

The need for and benefits of last mile high-speed connections are now obvious. What was innovative ten months ago is now commonplace, but only for the well-connected.  The 25/3 federal standard and 2022 Minnesota goal have been overtaken by the need for multiple video conference feeds.  Internet-based health, education, work and social interaction will continue in a post-COVID 19 world.  Minnesota broadband providers should be working with social service agencies and health care providers to substitute patient transport costs for fiber networks and broadband subscriptions.   Just one quick Google search found evidence that documented a savings of $3823 from one avoided ambulance transfer (Natafgi, Shane, etal. 2018).

We now have multiple regions with nearly 100% FTTH networks from providers like Paul Bunyan, CTC, WCTA, Acira and other cooperatives.  There are growing pockets of FTTH from HBC, Arvig, BEVComm, Metronet and other providers. Are schools and health care providers making full use of these network assets, thus making themselves more attractive to new residents and businesses? Cross-sector, public-private regional teams need to create projects that could be funded by the whole alphabet soup of federal agencies for health care, education, workforce development, economic development, and public safety.

The time to do that is now!  Anyone going to lead on this?

This entry was posted in Blandin Foundation, MN, uncategorized 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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