MN Broadband Task Force Meeting Feb 2022 – updates, plans and a bill for a reserve auction

The MN Broadband Task Force met this morning. Much of the meeting was spent reflecting on last year and planning for this year. There were also legislative and funding updates from the Office of Broadband Development. [Added Feb 24: Here’s the MN broadband 101 worksheet that OBD presented to the group.] One interesting fact – they estimate that the cost to deploy broadband to everyone household in Minnesota is $1.3 billion. There was also a discussion on a new bill to help broadband providers reach single remote households through a reserve auction – up to $25,000 per home.

Read on for more complete notes…

10:00 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from December 3, 2021 Meeting

10:10 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Update from DEED Commissioner Steve Grove

The Commissioner spoke about budgets for several programs proposed to the legislature (with their $7.75 billion surplus):

  • $170 million for broadband (on top of $70M already dedicated). Estimate cost to get broadband to everyone in MN (speeds 100 Mbps down and 20 up) is $1.3 billion
  • Launch MN $5 million to support startups and the “headquarter economy”
  • Angel tax credits in base budget
  • $15 million to encourage tech ed in high schools
  • $13 million for tech re-training
  • $8 million for clean tech training

Commissioner Grove also said the Task Force should think about how we position rural communities to take advantage of broadband once they get it and digital equity.

10:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. Update on 2022 Session with Deven Bowdry, DEED Government Relations Coordinator

The Governor has proposed $170 million for broadband. The House (HF14) has talked about broadband and are working on revising their proposed budget. The Senate is meeting later today about it.

10:45 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Minnesota Cable Communications Association Presentation regarding legislative bill for line extension program with  Anna Boroff, Executive Director

The proposed bill had the OBD creating a portal where folks could submit unserved areas. OBD would share that info with providers every 6 months at which time they can either tell OBD that the house is served or participate in a reverse auction Also, the bill would grant easements to all broadband providers, except electric cooperatives as they got them last year through a different bill.

(I have written about this proposed billtwice.) The bill was written by the MN Cable Communications Association and they presented it to the Task Force.

The reverse auction was framed as a way to get to houses that are difficult to serve more than communities. They talked about the houses with the half-mile driveway or the homes that watched fiber get deployed on the highway in front of their yard but still can’t access it.

The Task Force had some question and concerns. First folks were concerned about the workload this might create for the OBD – both processing, checking to make sure the home was indeed unserved and then performing the reserve auction and processing that. Also folks wondered if there would be real competition for the reverse auction. If not that might effectively open the door to bidding at a higher rate.

There were questions about speed requirements and while not entirely spelled out it sounds like they are thinking about the same requirements for the Border to Border grants. And that the reserve auction is not open to satellite providers.

11:05 a.m. – 11:10 a.m. Break

11:10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Office of Broadband Development Update with Angie Dickison, Executive Director

The OBD has been working on a worksheet on federal fund opportunities to help communities understand and manage the awesome opportunities ahead. Here are some fast facts from it:

  • $126 million is how much OBD has invested in broadband grants
  • $70 million is still on the table from last year’s legislature but it’s in process because the money really came from the feds. The hope is that the State application will come through and that there will be $35 million this year and next to invest.
  • $100 million – is money available from IIJA BEAD and might be more
  • 240,000 households are unserved
  • It will cost $1.3 billion to serve them – but costs are going up
  • They are working with Connected Nation on mapping

11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Update from Teddy Bekele, Chair, Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. Discussion on Subgroup Topics
1:00 p.m. – 1:10 p.m.  Public Comment, Other Business, February Meeting Plans, Wrap-up

The Task Force talked about what they liked about last year’s process and what they hoped for this year. There was also passion from some members to get the word to whoever needed to hear it that Minnesota is stalled without access to grants. We were leaders in the US but we are falling behind as other states make greater and swifter investment.

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