MN Senate Committee talk about broadband, DNR licenses and cable line extension program

The MN Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy met today to learn about broadband. They heard from Office of Broadband Development, DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and MN Cable Communications Association (MCCA) .

Office of Broadband Development gave an update on what’s happening with broadband in the state and upcoming federal funding. (The presentation was so similar to what I wrote up earlier from the MN Task Force Meeting that I only wrote up questions.) The DNR spoke about the dramatic increase in broadband applications (to cross state land) has double in the last three years and they need two more staff members. MCCA came in to give an industry perspective and talk about Line Extension Program, which would use Border to Border money to serve single homes just out of community reach through a reverse auction to their provider for up to $25,000 per home. (That bill will be introduced tomorrow.)

I have posted some notes but mostly questions/answers below. Or can also watch the video:

Angie Dickison – Office of Broadband Development

Q: How much funding is needed to connect all of MN to broadband?
A: $1.3 billion

Q: What would State portion be?
A: $500 million

Q: How much of $70 million allocated last year is left
A: All of it, since we’re waiting on federal approval

Q: So we lost a season because we the federal money took longer to get than the state would have?
A: Yes

Q: How can we reach hardest to serve areas?
A: we can look creatively because we get their calls at the OBD. We are looking at the proposed line extension.

Q: Are there enough projects out there to fund?
A: Yes! But multiyear grants are helpful to combat supply chain issues and allow time to plan

Q: If you get more money – what would you do with it?
A: I’d recommend using it for the Border to Border grants.

Q: Any details the feds require that we should know?
A: Treasury did release guidance; it aligns nicely with our Border to Border grants but we’re waiting for approval.

DNR – Susan Damon

We look at Environmental impact of deploying broadband (and other) on land. We look at negative implications of the licenses. They issue 500 utility licenses each year, including broadband lines. 43 percent in 2021 were for fiber. This has been growing. (106 licenses were for broadband in 2019; 160 in 2020; 206 in 2021.) We need 2 more people to handle the work.

Q: What would be a negative impact?
A: depends on how it is installed. Maybe protected species in an area – we’d have for mitigated activities. Generally there are not as many negative impacts. Or might need to replant over holes.

Q: How long does it take to process an application?
A: Regional review takes 10 days

Q: Will you process applications faster with more people?
A: It will help us keep up.

Anna Boroff – MN Cable Association

Cable wants to get broadband to everyone, especially difficult places. Many providers have received federal funding as well as using some of their own. Cable providers have been approved for RDOF projects, are using ARPA funds, waiting for the Border to Border grant applications to be open and waiting to learn about over federal funding.

We will be busy and it’s a big job. We hope legislators can streamline processes to make it easier and faster for us.

Cable would like to talk about more resources to get families connected.

Q: What is the public-private investment ratio?
A: Most of our investment is private capital. Just the tough areas need help.

Q: What percentage do you need for the hard to reach areas?
A: Right now the Border to Border grant asks for 50/50 match. We don’t think that’s enough for some areas – so we’ve come up with a completely new program called the Line Extension.

Q: Does cable have any other grants or government funding? And what percentage is it?
A: There are a lot of resources- APRA, IIJA, RDOF…

Q: What are the biggest challenges for you now?
A: They are all hard – supply chain, worker shortages, short construction season (12 week), permitting – with more capital coming in the problems will get worse

Q:  Sounds like it’s hard for houses that are a mile away from service is really hard. Is that true?
A: Yes.

Q: Hey – can you talk about a pilot program maybe with a reverse auction?
A Yes… the Line Extension Program will be introduced tomorrow.

Q: Where would the money come from for the Line Extension Program?
A: From the Border to Border funds.

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