Le Sueur talks to State Reps and Senator about frustration with RDOF and State grants creating blockage for better broadband

Le Sueur County News reports…

According to a report by the Blandin Foundation, nearly one in four Le Sueur County households are under-served or unserved. But despite the record $70 million in Border to Border grants, Le Sueur County is at risk of not seeing a single cent in state grants.

Many under-served and unserved areas of Le Sueur County are now ineligible for Border to Border grant dollars since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctioned over $408 million in grants to internet service providers to construct fiber optic networks across northeastern and southern Minnesota.

Of all the companies competing for grants, the largest sum is expected to go to a little-known ISP: LTD Broadband. The telecom provider bid for over $311,000 in 102,000 locations across the state. LTD’s planned fiber optic network encompasses approximately two thirds of unserved and under-served areas in the county.

I’ve written before about the situation in Le Sueur, they have been ineligible for state funding because of the LTD proposed opportunity with RDOF. So far nothing has changed as we wait to hear with LTD gets the funding but Le Sueur has been working to tell the story and on new plans…

Le Sueur County officials and the Board of Commissioners aired these frustrations to state legislators in a meeting on Tuesday. County officials pushed Sen. Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake), Rep. Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield) and Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) to bring the eligibility issue to the DEED Office, which distributes Border-to-Border grants, and the governor’s office.

“It seems that the state is going to receive a significant amount of money from the federal government for broadband investments, and if this policy issue isn’t addressed, we’re not going to be eligible for these investments,” said County Administrator Joe Martin.

Draheim responded that the state was tied by conditions attached to federal dollars and believe the county’s concerns are primarily tied to the federal government’s actions.

“I think it stems more from the federal government than the state government,” said Draheim. “I definitely will be in contact with the broadband department and others at the state level to see if there’s anything we could work around, but I think we need to be talking to Washington and not St. Paul.”

Draheim offered to have a non-partisan staff member answer clarifying questions on whether it was a state decision or federal conditions that led to the county’s grant request being denied.

In the future, Draheim advocated for the state to shift its focus away from fiber networks and toward subsidizing rural high speed internet through satellite dishes.

”It’s very disappointing for Le Sueur County that we’re in this position. Moving forward, I think the state legislators are going to have to look at what’s the next step,” said Draheim. “We have literally pumped billions of dollars into internet across Minnesota. Unfortunately, most of those federal dollars go to ‘rural internet,’ but it just connects large cities through rural Minnesota and doesn’t help the people of rural Minnesota.”

I think it’s worth noting Draheim’s focus on satellite. I’m afraid we may see a resurgence of interest in satellite in the legislature because it has gotten better but it still does not compete with the fiber, which is built for today’s need and future needs. People and businesses will move to an area with fiber to build a future; they won’t move to areas with satellite-only.

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