MRBC Update: House Committee Hears Line Extension Bill

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

House Committee Hears Line Extension Bill
The House Industrial Education and Economic Development Committee heard HF 3605 this morning. This bill is the Line Extension/broadband easements bill sponsored by the Minnesota Cable Communications Association that was heard last week in the Minnesota Senate. The committee adopted an amendment to the bill (more details below) and then unanimously passed the bill to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration. The bill is authored by Rep. Jordan Rasmusson (R-Fergus Falls) and has 15 bipartisan coauthors. The Coalition sent a letter (more details below) to the committee outlining our support for the changes made to the bill, but also our concerns that more funding is needed in the Border-to-Border program to make sure larger, community-based projects are not pushed out for lack of funding.
You can read more details about the bill here.
The amendment that was adopted makes several major changes to the proposed program. These changes were requested by the Coalition:

  1. Confirmatory language that grants would only be issued for projects that are scalable to speed requirements of 100mbps download and 100mbps upload. This language assures that potential projects would not be built to standards below those of the existing Border-to-Border grant program.
  2. Precluding grants from being issued to households that are part of a grant already issued by the Office of Broadband Development for the Border-to-Border grant program. Additionally, if this bill becomes law, the Coalition will request that OBD issue Border-to-Border grants first so larger, community-based project applications wouldn’t need to be altered from conflicting line extension project application.
  3. A cap of $5 million per year for the first three years of the program. The cap would be lifted after the third year.

The Coalition also requested that a separate appropriation be made for this program, but that request was not amenable to the bill author or MCCA. The Coalition remains concerned that his new program would put stress on the limited amount of funding currently available for the Border-to-Border program. Federal funding from various programs has still not arrived in the state—and may not for some time—and we are skeptical that the RDOF program’s preliminary auction awards will be fully approved, with potentially several hundred million dollars not coming to Minnesota. We will continue to advocate for additional funding for the grant program this session and will soon be asking you to write to your elected officials to let them know that you support more funding for the grant program.

You can read the letter the Coalition wrote to the committee below:

March 23, 2022

Dear Chair Pelowski and Committee Members,

On behalf of our member organizations, we write to you today to share our thoughts on HF 3605. The Minnesota Cable Communications Association has worked with the Coalition to incorporate suggestions from our member organizations that are reflected in an amendment before you today. These include confirmatory language that grants would only be issued for projects that are scalable to speed requirements of 100mbps download and 100mbps upload. This language assures that potential projects would not be built to standards below those of the existing Border-to-Border grant program. Additionally, MCCA and the bill author included language that would preclude grants from being issued to households that are part of a grant already issued by the Office of Broadband Development for the Border-to-Border grant program. Finally, a cap of $5 million per year for the first three years of the program has been included in today’s amendment. The Coalition supports these changes.

The Coalition is concerned that, with limited funds currently available, some larger, community-based projects will be passed over by the Border-to-Border grant program. Any grants for this new pilot program would use the same funding source as the Border-to-Border grant program. There is $35 million for FY22 and $35 million for FY23 from the American Rescue Plan Act’s Capital Projects Fund that was allocated by the Legislature during the last legislative session. More funding is desperately needed to reach the 240,000 households across the state that lack access to our state’s 2026 speed goal of 100mbps/20mbps. Additional funding would ensure that communities that have worked hard to partner with internet service providers for a Border-to-Border grant do not miss out because there isn’t enough money in the bank.
The Coalition supports Section 3 of the bill related to broadband easements. This language would streamline the process of rolling out service to households in rural Minnesota.
The Coalition would like to thank MCCA for graciously incorporating the changes listed above. We will continue to work with them as HF 3605 moves through the legislative process.  
Respectfully yours,
Jay Trusty
Chair
Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition

This entry was posted in MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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