MN House Committee moves two broadband bills rereferred to Ways and Means

Today the MN House House Industrial Education and Economic Development Finance & Policy Committee addressed two bills:

  • HF 14 (Ecklund) Broadband grant program money deposit transferred.
  • HF 4375 (Ecklund) Commissioner of employment and economic development required to prepare and submit federal fund application, and money appropriated.

Both bills as amended were unanimously rereferred to Ways and Means.

You can see the session below – it was the first topic raised. Or read the notes from the session.

(I will change this video once the archive is available, versus the live link available March 30)

Why two broadband bills? To increase the odds that a broadband bill separate from other bills moved to the Governor.

Representative Ecklund offers three amendments to the request for $100 million for broadband grants:

  • Raises cap to $10 million
  • Higher match to 75 percent
  • Office of Broadband should report back on impact of changes to grant match and cap.

Testimony:

From Brent Christensen at MN Telecom Alliance

  • Raising cap to $10 million only if $100M comes to grants. Otherwise recommend a caveat that says no one project can get more than 10 percent of funding.
  • Concerned about higher match requirement. Prefer a limit on grants with lower grant match.

From Brian Kranbeer – MiEnergy

  • Supports $110 in grants
  • Supports $10 million cap in grants and lower match especially if state gets $100 million.

Ida Rukavina – RAMS

  • Supports bill and amendments.
  • Tells stories of costs to get broadband for communities in Northern MN

Nathan Zacharias – MN Rural Broadband Coalition

  • Supports bill and amendments.

Comments/questions:

Rep Bliss: I want fiber to everyone but I hear the supply chain is slow. And I doubt the ability of providers to get this done.
MTA: We are adapting to the environment. I Have heard there is a 72 week wait on fiber but many folks have ordered ahead. That explains the need for no spend-by date. We can do it but it will take longer.

Rep Bliss: Can you do conduit then add fiber?
MTA: Yes

Rep Bliss: With a big lump of money, do you think we’ll get people who bid without qualifications? I’d be happy with $40 million a year for many years
MTA: That funding sounds right. Multiple years does allow us to better plan. The Office of Broadband Development does a great job and they have been the gatekeeper for best use of funds.
Rep Bliss: Concern that $100 million will close the purse strings in future. Let’s not let that happen.

Rep Kiel: Why isn’t the funding available yet?
MN Broadband Coalition: The State has applied; they are waiting for approval from the Fed Treasury.

Angie Dickison from Office of Broadband Development (OBD): Yes, we applied in January and we’re waiting approval. This process has cost us one construction season – so far. We were unable to to dole out grants last year. General funds give us flexibility and provide a bridge as we wait for federal funding.

Rep MacDonald: How much federal COVID money has been used?
OBD: States can use federal funding; none has been used in MN yet. Last week, Wisconsin announced $200 million in federal funding for broadband.
Rep MacDonald: I’d like to give some of that funding back to the Feds. My dad was a legislator as well.

Rep Kiel: If we have funds for fiber but want to get higher speeds can we?
MTA: We like to focus on least served areas.

Rep Lislegard: Thanks to Rep Ecklund

This entry was posted in uncategorized 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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