eNews: MN Monthly Recap July 2021: funding, definitions and updates

Save the Date (Oct 12-14)! Building on Broadband: Inspiring Progress
The Blandin Foundation is pleased to announce the dates for the virtual fall broadband conference of Oct 12-14. There will be a series regional events leading up to the statewide conference and there is a request for presenters from folks like you who have an inspirational story of broadband use.

Broadband view from MN Communities
The Blandin Broadband team checked in with a BBC initiative to look back at what I’ll optimistically call the tail end of the pandemic and a helpful look at what everyone is expecting moving forward.

The Digital Divide Remains
Roughly a quarter of adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year (24%) say they don’t own a smartphone. About four-in-ten adults with lower incomes do not have home broadband services (43%) or a desktop or laptop computer (41%).

MN Broadband Task Force June 2021
The Minnesota Broadband Task Force met. They heard from Arc Minnesota on the impact of broadband (good and bad) on people with autism and other disabilities. They also heard from someone from the FCC on the ins and outs on the Emergency Broadband Benefits. They got an update on broadband in the MN legislature, combined with a comment at the end meeting on federal funding.

Understanding broadband speed tests
In June, Blandin Foundation hosted a discussion on different types of broadband speed tests and mapping in Minnesota. It became clear that different tests will provide different results because their purposes are different.

States go through stages to fund broadband: MN lifted as early adopter
The Benton Institute posts an article from CTC Energy and Technology on the steps that state take to fund local broadband efforts. They outline three stages: develop an overall broadband plan, design the structure and rules of their broadband funding and execute grant strategies and then revise and adjust as needed. They call out the Minnesota model.

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

COVID News

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Arrowhead Region
Blandin, Northland, IRRRB helps Arrowhead leaders focus on broadband
Arrowhead Regional Leaders Collaborate on Broadband Projects

Bemidji
Quarantine rules help spread telehealth options for rural moms-to-be in Bemidji

Ely
New FirstNet Cell Site Primarily Powered by Solar Launches on Echo Trail to Support First Responders in Northern Minnesota

Greenwood Township
Greenwood Township is looking at options for better broadband

Hermantown
Hermantown announces a Broadband Task Force

Northern MN
Will Enbridge tax snafu impact broadband investment in Northern MN?

Kandiyohi County
Kandiyohi County commits $1.3 million ARP funding to broadband

Pipestone County
Pipestone County thinks about American Rescue Plan – broadband comes up

Redwood and Kandiyohi Counties
MVTV covering campgrounds in Kandiyohi and Redwood Counties

Rochester
Mayo Clinic’s new mobile health bus for medical services and broadband access

Winona
HBC offers free internet to guests in transitional housing in Winona

Upcoming Events, Opportunities and Resources

Stirring the Pot – guest post by Steve Giorgi, Director of Range Association of Municipalities & Schools (RAMS)

I know many of you are used to reading commentary from Bill Coleman, a well know broadband enthusiast who works tirelessly for communities across the state to enhance their broad connectivity.  Well, Bill is on a well-deserved vacation, and I was asked to try and fill in during his absence.  I am taking a different approach and asking you to PONDER THIS….

The following are summaries of some of the broadband activities happening across the country.  When I read these articles, I often find myself asking. “Why not in Minnesota?”  Perhaps you will think the same thing and if enough of us start asking that question, who knows we may start a movement….

In Georgia, Conexon Connect, led by Jonathan Chambers, secured over $1 billion dollars from a federal grant program by creating a consortium of electrical cooperative who will deliver fiber to the premise for their cooperative members.  The mission is to serve 100% of the membership with gigabit fiber service by utilizing existing power line easements and access to the rural members. Conexon has designed over 100,000 miles of fiber networks, builds more than 30,000 miles of fiber per year and has connected over 50,000 cooperative members to fiber.  The engagement of our electric cooperatives in Minnesota seems to me to be the ultimate solution to getting all Minnesotans connected to quality broadband services.  If they can provide electricity, they can provide fiber.  Conexon will work with any cooperatives anywhere in the country – WHY NOT MINNESOTA?  Minnesota is home to 44 electric cooperatives and to date only 5 have engaged in broadband services.  Ponder that….

Just last month Governor Jay Inslee from the State of Washington signed into law the Public Broadband Act that removed all restrictions on public broadband networks in the state.  That leaves 17 states that have laws on the books that limit or restrict publicly owned and operated broadband networks.  In Minnesota a community is required to hold a referendum and achieve a super majority vote with 65% support before undertaking the design and build out of a public broadband network.  WHY IS THAT?  One could speculate about the lobbying of cable providers and others who may not want public competition, but that discussion is for another day.  Let’s examine the first public network that provided symmetrical gigabit service for an entire city…Chattanooga Tennessee!  In 2010 the city committed $220 million dollars to build and deploy gigabit fiber services within the entire community.  The resulting job explosion has been eye opening and Chattanooga is home now to numerous data centers (cloud storage) that provides a steady influx of tax revenue for the city.  As a matter of fact, a study conducted by the University of Tennessee determined that in one decade since the deployment of fiber the city has gained over $2.69 BILLION dollars in revenue.  Could Minnesota be a mecca for data centers? Absolutely, if we deployed fiber networks.

This year the MN legislature agreed to provide $70 million for the Office of Broadband over the next two years ($35 million each year).  The funding is primarily from the Federal America Rescue Plan funds allocated to the state to address the myriad of issues resulting from the COVID 19 pandemic.  This will be the largest infusion of dollars toward broadband in the state and hopefully will be able to navigate the mishmash of locations eligible for “state” funds not already designated to receive RDOF funding.  Sorry, this gets complicated.  In any event, it sounds like Minnesota has finally recognized that a significant investment in broadband is necessary to get more Minnesotans connected.  157,000 families have been identified as being underserved or not served.  Then we see what is happening in California where Governor Newsom announced his plan to invest $7 BILLION in the largest public broadband system in the nation.  Once again, I ponder WHY NOT HERE?

Well, I think Bill will be back next month and your regular readings will return.  In the interim perhaps I left you a few things to ponder over.  Hope you had a great 4th of July celebration, keep the faith, and know that there is a small army of broadband advocates on the Iron Range working hard to bring home those last mile connections.

Peace Out

Steve Giorgi

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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