The latest from the Minnesota Broadband Coalition...
Autumn Legislative Update: Changes in MN Senate Leadership
The Minnesota Senate GOP will have a new leadership team during the 2021 legislative session. Sen. Jeremy Miller was elected Senate Majority Leader by his fellow GOP colleagues in late September. Sen. Paul Gazelka stepped down for the position when he announced his entry into the 2022 Governor race. Sen. Miller is known around the Capitol as an “above the fray” type of legislator, often leading bipartisan initiatives and solving tricky partisan conflicts. He is a founding member of the bipartisan Senate Purple Caucus.
The Minnesota Senate will also have a new President of the Senate—a Senator that holds the gavel in the chamber and directs legislative work—during the 2021 session. Sen. David Osmek, a Republican from Mound, was chosen by his fellow Senators to serve in the leadership position. Sen. Miller and Sen. Osmek will form an important team as they run the business of the upper chamber in 2021.
The primary focus of the 2021 legislative session will be on the infrastructure borrowing bill, known as the bonding bill. Legislators and the Governor have already embarked on several bonding tours across the state where they visit communities that hope to receive funds for projects like wastewater facilities, bridges, roads, fire halls, community centers, and more. The bonding bill requires a supermajority to pass each chamber, so compromise and collaboration are required between the two parties.
Treasury Releases Guidance on Capital Projects Fund
The US Treasury finally provided official guidance to states on how to use the Capital Projects Funds they received through the final COVID relief package last year. The Legislature designated $70 million of this to the Office of Broadband Development for the state’s broadband grant program. OBD will need to apply for this money and submit details about our state’s grant program as well as project details so that Treasury can approve them as an appropriate use of the Capital Projects Fund. There are still questions about RDOF auction areas, federal conformity, and other technical issues, and OBD is seeking further clarification from Treasury as well as waiting for the results of RDOF to know more.
Drip, Drip of RDOF Results
The FCC announced last week it was authorizing more auction winners for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in Minnesota including funding for Arrowhead Electric Cooperative, CTC, Federated Telephone Co., Garden Valley Telephone Coop, Paul Bunyan, Savage Communications, and Winnebago Cooperative Telecom. The total announced awards total around $60 million. There is still no word on the wide swaths of the state that were awarded to LTD Broadband during last year’s preliminary reverse auction. However, it is a good sign that we are seeing the FCC process awards for other providers and indicates progress.
Federal Infrastructure Package
The US Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act earlier this summer and it includes $65 billion for broadband. The bill, however, is stalled in the US House. Its passage has been tied to another, even larger spending bill and the timeline moving forward is unclear. However, US Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a leader on the infrastructure bill, assured Blandin Broadband Conference attendees earlier this week that she is confident and optimistic the bill will pass and be signed into law.
Legislative Committee to Convene Soon
The MN Rural Broadband Coalition’s Legislative Committee will have its first meeting to begin determining a 2022 Legislative Platform soon, so, members, keep an eye on your inboxes for meeting details. If you would like to serve on the Legislative Committee, please send an email to email@example.com