Replies submitted on MN PUC petition to look at LTD Broadband’s eligibility for funding

Minnesota Telephone Alliance and the Minnesota Rural Electric Association jointly filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, asking them to revoke the ETC status for LTD Broadband. The petition stems from LTD being the winner in the RDOF auction in Minnesota to receive $311 million to bring broadband to 102,000 passing in the state. In the RDOF filings, LTD promises to build fiber-to-the-premise. The petition contends that LTD can’t make the financial commitments to fulfill the RDOF pledge.

  • The PUC invited comments on the petition until June 1, 2022; earlier this month, I annotated those comments. The reply period is ended June 8. Here’s a look at what came in (links below go to their full responses):
  • Chippewa County – they support a proceeding to consider revoking the ETC status. Chippewa is in an area impacted by situation. In 2017, they did a feasibility study that indicated it would cost $15 million to get broadband to residents. They are worried that costs will go up and because LTD would be given 10 years to complete the project, they are concerned that residents will be left unserved/underserved for years and they are concerned about the loss of economic opportunity during that time. Also, they have tried to connect with LTD and failed. They “have lost faith that LTD can fulfill their promises.”
  • MN Attorney General Keith Ellison – The original comments from the AG supported a proceeding and recommended that LTD share their long form. The reply addresses specific issues that LTD and others made in their earlier comments. I’ll pulling out the ones that I think are most salient to a wider audience. They point out that ETC forms are in flux and suggest that supports a proceeding to look at ETC status and to look at it separately for RDOF and CAF II funding (another pool of federal funds). They recommend that the PUC sees LTD’s long form application for RDOF award but also recommend strict confidentiality. The long form should help the PUC determine capacity. If LTD is turned down during a proceeding, the AG feels the proceeding is moot.
  • MN Telecom Alliance and MN Rural Electric Association – As expected, MTA and MREA still support the proceeding. They mention other incidents where LTD has been called out unfavorably. They also highlight the tone of LTD’s comments; they relied on technicalities to stop the proceeding rather than address their ability to meet requirements for ETC designation. They also question, in detail, the legitimacy of LTD’s specific concerns. They are generally in agreement with earlier comments from folks who generally support moving forward with the proceeding; although they feel like the proceeding is important regardless of the RDOF award because the federal folks look to state agencies to know the people and the territories.
  • LTD – As expected, LTD disagrees with most of the commenters. They claim that the commenters bring nothing new to the table. They assert that the commenters are not addressing the question at hand – whether a proceeding makes sense procedurally. but rather are commenting as if it has. They also do not want to be singled out and feel if their ETC designation is being questioned, so should everyone else’s. They maintain that if the ETC is revoked, it opens a door where competitors could start similar proceeding with other ETCs.
  • Department of Commerce – they support a proceeding to consider revoking the ETC status and referred to the Office of Administrative Hearings with discovery, witnesses and LTD’s long form application. They note that rules have been changed for Border to Border funding; last time communities in areas that might receive RDOF finding were disqualified from state funding; this year they are only disqualified if the funding has been decided (enforceable commitment).

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