Earlier today I wrote about a new bill introduced in the MN Legislature (HF 3605) which seems to have two goals: (1) open up a reverse broadband auction to providers to get funding to deploy “Broadband Line Extension” and (2) streamline broadband easements for providers. I said earlier, I’d like to look closer at the Broadband Line Extension and I just found out that’s a likely topic for the Minnesota Broadband Task Force meeting tomorrow (Feb 23). The meeting is remote and open to everyone. I thought it I throw out some of my thoughts so it might spur more and lead to a richer discussion tomorrow.
A quick reminder on the bill…
The very high level description: the bill proposes that the State creates a portal where unserved households can submit their address. The results are reported every 6 months to providers in the state, providers who serve any listed addresses can correct the list, then providers are invited to participate in a reserve auction to serve those households still on the unserved list.
The money will come from MN DEED (Department of Employment and Economic Development) and a grant issued under this section must not exceed $25,000 per line extension.
I don’t see an overall budget. I don’t see broadband being defined; although I suspect they will use the same definitions for the Border to Border grant which would push projects that serve 100 Mbps down and 20 up and are scalable to 100/100.
More money to broadband is mostly a good thing but we’ve learned (most recently with RDOF) that sometimes the money blocks progress. The potential of RDOF has kept Le Sueur County stalled for more than a year now. The county was ready to go and had applied for State grants but the provider that applied for RDOF was able to usurp the progress by being put into position to get federal funding before the state funding the county sought was awarded. So here are some of my questions:
- Where will the money come from? The Minnesota Border to Border grant program is well lauded, in part because it encourages public-private partnership. I wonder if money spent on the reserve auction will come from the same source.
- Who can apply? I mentioned this in my earlier post. It reads like any Minnesota provider can apply to serve an area but the title implies that it’s for incumbent expansion. Certainly, it seems likely that the incumbent might be able to create cheapest options given proximity to existing infrastructure. But we’ve seen some areas where incumbent providers are not as engaged as a competitive provider might be in providing the service. With that in mind, what happens if a provider applies, wins and defaults?
- What are the speed requirements? Will the rules come from the Border to Border program? Or will there be more lenient rules for these areas? The difficulty is that these last served will likely be expensive to serve and with a reverse auction quality might be obscured, leading to public funding for “lesser than” access for part of the state.
- Why only share data only twice a year? I just read on article on the benefits of crowd-source mapping. One benefit is the immediacy of results for everyone, which might be used by a community to build a business case or a provider to see an opportunity. This is a double edged sword when results are announced on a regular basis; especially when I think about incumbent advantage and the situation in Le Sueur. It might be a disincentive for a provider to work on entering a new market when they know an opportunity for an incumbent to be awarded grant money to serve the area comes up regularly.
Again, mostly more money into broadband is a good thing; I just want to make sure there aren’t any unintended consequences.