MN Rural Broadband Coalition Update: Broadband Bills at the Legislature

From the MN Rural Broadband Coalition…

We’re now two months into the 2021 legislative session. Although we have not seen official action or movement on broadband bills there have been plenty of bill introductions and a few hearings. Minnesota Management and Budget will release their February Revenue Forecast this week. We will learn what the state’s finances look like and, if there is a deficit, how big it will be. Legislators will use this information to make decisions about state’s biennial budget, which must be balanced by the end of session in May.

Broadband Hearing Alert:
Senate Agriculture Committee, February 24, 3:00pm

  • SF 946 (Westrom) Broadband Funding + Unserved Targeting
    • $120 million, biennial ongoing funding
    • $30 million, biennial targeted to unserved areas
    • Projects that must go through an underserved area to get to unserved area would qualify
    • State match may be up to 55% if 10% comes from a non-state entity.
    • Language from last session/special sessions
  • SF 1186 (Draheim) Mapping Changes + Funding
    • Annual mapping contract, must collect data from “wired and wireless” providers, make maps public by April 15, annually.
    • $50 million, biennial one-time funding
    • Unserved only
    • “Must not be used in areas scheduled to be built out through federal assistance” (This is to make sure RDOF areas do not receive state funds)

Other Broadband Bills at the Legislature:

  • HF 14/SF 22 (Ecklund/Bakk) Broadband Funding
    • $120 million, biennial ongoing funding
  • SF 945 (Westrom) Broadband Funding
    • $120 million, biennial ongoing funding
  • SF 958 (Westrom) Governor’s Agriculture Budget Proposal
    • $50 million, one-time funding 2022
    • $350k Office of Broadband Development budget, annually

Coalition’s Legislative Committee Hears Presentation from MREA, MCCA
The Minnesota Rural Electric Association and the Minnesota Cable Communications gave presentations to members of our Legislative Committee on Friday, February 19 about HF 686/SF1304 (Rep. Ecklund/Sen. Westrom), a bill that would allow Electric Cooperatives to install broadband infrastructure on existing easements. There are concerns with the bill from several groups, including MCCA. One concern is the roughly $25 million settlement that went to Missouri landowners because of a similar bill in 2018. MREA and MCCA said amendments are forthcoming and more work is needed on the bill. Those amendments were not available for us to review during the meeting. HF 686 is scheduled to be heard in the House Commerce Committee on February 24 at 3:00pm.

The Legislative Committee recognized that bringing broadband to unserved and underserved communities is the easement bill’s intention and that is, in principle, something the Coalition should support. However, we also agreed that because there is significant work to do on the bill, that the Coalition should remain neutral until the major stakeholders work out their differences on the bill.

This entry was posted in MN, Policy 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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