MN Rural Broadband Coalition Day on the Hill notes

Today the MN Rural Broadband Coalition held their Day on the Hill. I was a little late to the meeting as it conflicted with a hearing at the MN House – where they move two bills to put $100 million into broadband in general funding to Ways and Means. Throughout the day, we heard from legislators, providers and community leaders about broadband. Some high level observations:

  • Broadband education is never a waste of time. The issues become more complex and it’s difficult to keep up.
  • The MN House and Senate have slight differences in their bills to invest in broadband grants but seems like maybe the $5 million project cap and 50 percent match may change.
  • There are concerns with slowness of the federal process, labor shortages and supply chain issues
  • Broadband funding in Minnesota general funds would help bridge the gaps created by federal decision making

Here are some screenshots of various presentations and I have details (but probably not complete) notes from the day below.

 

Presentation from Commissioner Grove
Q: How much to get broadband to everyone?
A: $1.3 billion
DEED: We have $500 million on the horizon from feds. We anticipate more funding and investment from provide providers. We think we need $170 million in State funding

Update from Office of Broadband Development
Waiting on approval for funding from Federal Treasury. As soon as they get approval, they will get out grant requests for $35 million with an eye to doling out next $35 million later.
The Governor proposed $170 million in general funding; that would keep us going as we wait on federal

Questions:

Q: why doesn’t fixed wireless count as broadband?
A: Need to ask legislators.

Q: Anything we can do to streamline OBD grants?
A: We are waiting for feds.

Q: Can local ARPA funding be used as match on broadband?
A: Yes

Q: What about RDOF?
A: They will map out where awards have been finalized, and if finding is not finalized they can apply for state funding.

Q: Can a Border ro Border gran work for communities with pockets of unserved areas?
A: OBD will absolutely look at those areas.

Q: Should we include RDOF areas that have not been funded into our community projects.
A: They will likely be made available

Presentation from Representative Rob Ecklund – spoke about the MN House meeting earlier today.

Q: Will the Senate be OK with the amendments?
A: Probably not.

Q: why can’t we use fixed wireless?
A: The State will fund fixed wireless if it meets speed requirements.

Ecklund: The biggest issue between Senate and House is that the Senate generally wants to cuts taxes and House wants to invest. We’ll have a better idea of how broadband is going to go once we settle other issues such as Frontline Hero Pay.

Presentation from Nathan

Q: Does the Senate agree with the amendments added by the House today?
A: They will probably come to a compromise.

Presentation from Senator Westrom – working on getting bills through second deadline – including the Ag bill, which includes broadband.

We want to push commitment of $110 million for broadband. Prefer to spend that money on broadband rather than devices. We’re really working on that last mile or two, especially in places where fiber is closer than we thought. We are looking at pilot projects to get competitive pricing.

For years I have pushed for economic development investment. I have talked to people who can work from their home offices made possible by broadband. It offers an opportunity for a resurgence of rural popularity, especially for families.

We recognize that there are issues with labor and supply chain. We don’t want to pay inflated prices.

Presentation from Senator Tina Smith on optimism on federal funding available to help Minnesota reach goals.

Q: Supply chains are a problem – especially with a push to buy American and meet certain standards.
A: We are

Q: We have a broadband project that ready but we can’t get funding.
A: We can follow up.

Presentation from Chuck Ackman (following video from Senator Klobuchar) – they have written about concerns with RDOF.

Presentation on Line Extension from Anna Boroff from MN Cable Association. It’s a creative way to get to homes that are close to fiber without costing the provider or resident the money to deploy.
They added a caveat that line extension speeds met speed requirements for Border to Border grants. Also some effort to make this this doesn’t dip in too deep into Border to Border projects.

Q: If a house is on served map but isn’t served, can the provider shown on map apply for funding?
A: Yes
Q: but doesn’t that open a loophole that allows providers to be the only bidder in an area so they can bid higher

Q: Wh6at’s up with reverse auction?
A: The intent it to keep costs down – it will be less effective when there is only one provider.

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