Connecting One Minnesota Workshop Jan 25: Notes and video

Today local governments, community leaders, industry, state and federal representatives and other critical partners from around the state met to learn about key programs that are aimed at expanding broadband infrastructure and promoting digital equity for our residents. There were folks you have been attending broadband conferences for 17+ years and there were some first timers. There’s more discussion now on digital inclusion than there was in this room in the early days. There’s a recognition now that we need to build both supply and demand.

My notes are high level but should at least provide some outline of what was discussed and when if you want to check out the video. (At each break a new video starts.)

Welcome and Introductions • Commissioner Steve Grove, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development

Bree Maki, Executive Director, Office of Broadband Development, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development

  • Excited about digital equity work
    Have a opportunity to make a difference

Evan Feinman, BEAD Program Director, NTIA

  • Nearly 250,000 families without adequate broadband
    We pledge to provide support for people who need federal help and we will be accessible

9:30 a.m. – 9:45 a.m. Broadband in Minnesota: A Look Back This session will look at broadband programs the state has developed to help its communities thrive and how they have overcome some of the unique challenges in the state. Past Governor’s Task Force on Broadband members:

Rick King, Chairman | Metropolitan Airports Commission Former Chair of the Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force

  • A diverse group of people came up with a consensus report
  • Speed level of 10-20 Mbps down and 5-10 up
  • The goal may have seemed underwhelming for some but we set a goal
  • Also set some world class goals

Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Director of Public Works | City of Minneapolis Former Chair of the Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on Broadband

  • We are not just reporting – we followed up on federal money (ARRA)
  • We created the OBD
  • We created the MN Broadband grants – we knew part of MN would never get covered through market case scenarios

Teddy Bekele, Chief Technology Officer | Land O’Lakes Technology Chair of the Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on Broadband

  • Creating a report for Governor and Legislators
  • Focus on getting funding
  • Only 23 percent of the state has gig access

9:45 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Charting the Path to Connecting all Minnesotans This panel will include a variety of speakers talking about legislative and local efforts to ensure Minnesotans have access to affordable and reliable high-speed internet.

Moderator: Scott Marquardt, Senior Vice President, Southwest Initiative Foundation

  • Tarryl Clark, Commissioner, Stearns County & Chair, NACo Telecommunications and Technology Policy Steering Committee
  • Amanda Duerr, Vice President of Public Affairs, St. Paul Chamber of Commerce
  • Jeff Lacher, CWA Representative, Communications Workers of America
  • Randy Long, IT Director, Boise Forte Tribal Government
  • Nathan Zacharius, Technology Policy Analyst, Association of MN Counties


  • We should hold grant recipients to higher standard, not simply meeting base requirements but striving to really get people connected.
  • We need to train more technicians
  • COVID has helped to make the case for broadband
  • Funding is very helpful $400+million gap in federal funding and state need
  • We need to update speed goals
  • We need to increase match grant from $5 million; we have more funds now and it’s more expensive to reach the areas that aren’t served. The low density grants *with $10 million cap) may be a better model.
  • Want to make a difference – contact your legislators. Individual voices brought together are powerful
  • Which committees are you watching at the Legislature? House – Agriculture Finance and in Senate Agriculture, Broadband and Rural Development
  • The message at the Legislature is that broadband is rural and the only need is infrastructure – we need to refocus that to think about more than just infrastructure. Adoption is important too. Let’s figure out their barrier and address those issues.
  • We need to do education with legislators
  • Question: What do you do if local match is too much?
    We need to figure that out with the OBD and NTIA – we are using county and township ARPA funds.
    With State applications – any amount of partnership investment helps with grant scoring.
    Partnering with the right provider is key
  • Question: How can tribal government make match?
    Look at the low density grants.
  • Question: Will we have enough time to deploy funded projects?
    That is a real concern. There is a state office that slows things down.
    We don’t want to wait on this.
    We could look at one-time funds but in large amount with a slow drip.
    Let’s give a thought to RDOF.

Question: We have 20 providers in our county with 25 percent satisfaction rate. We’re very piecemeal. We want to create a cooperative. Our local providers do not always get along. What do you think about starting a cooperative?
People have had good luck with it – for example Rock County.

10:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. Break

10:45 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Overview of Federal Broadband Funding Opportunities Representatives from the federal government will provide in-depth overviews of and answer questions about current broadband programs.

Moderator: Julie Tesch, President & CEO, Center for Rural Policy and Development

  • James Baltazar, Senior Analyst, Office of Field Policy and Management, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Andre Boening, General Field Representative, Minnesota & Wisconsin Telecommunications Program | Rural Development
  • Tom Karst, Federal Program Officer for Minnesota, NTIA
  • Alejandro Roark, Chief of the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at FCC
  • Theron Rutyna, Program Specialist, Tribal Broadband Connectivity and Nation-to-Nation Coordination Division, NTIA (Virtual)

11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Why Digital Equity Matters This panel will feature cross-sector leaders discussing why digital equity matters to the communities and populations they work with and why their input is so critical to the state in the development of the Five[1]Year and Digital Equity Plans.

Moderator: Tuleah Palmer, Chief Executive Officer, Blandin Foundation

  • Phil Essington, Director of Broadband and Digital Inclusion, Hennepin County
  • Jay Haapala, Associate State Director – Community Engagement, AARP
  • Jenny Larson, Executive Director, Three Rivers Community Action
  • Linda Larson, Executive Committee Member, Minnesota Farmers Union
  • Erik Sievers, MBA, MSW, LICSW, Executive Director, Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center (Virtual)
  • Question: how do you collaborate?
    We need to challenge our assumptions. Barriers take all forms.
    There are older people in rural areas. At AARP we are focusing on training. 94 percent of members 45+ said broadband was very important.
    In MN 1 in 10 are living in poverty. We are looking for solutions we can implement. Broadband access is a critical need for our clients. 70+ percent don’t have access at home – part of that is access and part is affordability. We work with communities of color – we made an effort to go to them, to get translators, to figure out there needs and connect them with help.
    We get our members to tell their stories to the policymakers.
    We ask members and clients about their needs early and often.
  • Question: Is there an oversight group that looks at digital red lining?
    There is a difference in services offered and prices charge depending on geography.
    We like to see new technologies. We’d like to see speeds get better everywhere.
  • Question: I like in a rural area. There are no counselors. It seems like an opportunity to use telehealth.
    We have been able to open up jobs to folks who don’t live in the area. Another problem that telehealth can prevent long distance driving when the folks in need have access to broadband.
  • Question: Housing – everyone in friend’s senior housing is paying for internet/cable than for rent.
    We are trying to get people signed up for ACP but in multi-dwelling units, sometimes the provider of choice does not accept ACP.
    We are starting to look at community space with wifi access.
  • Question: How do you get people together to work on these issues?
    We are always talking to our partners and clients. We all know each other so we’re together often. Also we need to take the time to look around the table to see who is not here and find a way to get them to the table.
    It takes effort, time and cost. We use local advisory committees. We also use annual surveys.
    It’s part of the way we do service. Since the pandemic, we’ve been adding zoom to our ways of reaching folks/
  • Question: Having access doesn’t mean you will access – especially with seniors.
    We need to get partners involved and meet people where they are
  • Question: With low income housing – is there a way to work through the landlord rather than residents?
    We are working on that. If you live in public housing, you do qualify for ACP so it makes sense.

12:30 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. Networking Lunch Attendees are encouraged to network with each other and discuss ways they can work together to expand broadband access and digital equity in their communities.

1:15 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Digital Equity in Best Practice This panel will feature speakers talking about their concrete work in the digital equity arena in terms of planning, programs, strategy, sustainability, and the impact the work has on communities.

Moderator: Julia Carlis, President, Minnesota Library Association and Senior Library Manager, Washington County Library

  • Katy Armendariz, MSW, LICSW, Founder, Minnesota CarePartner
  • Ling Becker, Director of Workforce Solutions, Ramsey County and Executive Director, Ramsey County Workforce Innovation Board
  • Hussein Farah, Founder & Executive Director, New Vision Foundation
  • Ann Hokanson, Executive Director, Traverse des Sioux Library Cooperative
  • Allison Waukau, American Indian Community Liaison, Hennepin County
  • Question: We have to think about accessible from all lenses.
    Is it on the bus line? Is there easy/free parking? Are there multiple languages available (including ASL)? Is “in home” possible?
    Technology should be predictable.
    Broadband speed goals needs to consider the needs of a family household.
    Teachers much have hard tech and soft communication skills.
    Partnerships are critical
    Each partner should bring a partner to grow the coalition.
    Have culturally appropriate programming.

2:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. Industry Panel: Networking Design and Build This panel will feature industry representatives discussing conditions needed for design and build of broadband networks, funding challenges, what industry may be looking for in partners as well as workforce consideration needs.

Moderator: Carter Grupp, Broadband Coordinator, Otter Tail County – American Connection Corps

  • Jill Huffman, CEO Harmony Telephone/MiBroadband/Spring Grove Communications
  • Chris Konechne, Director of Client Services, Finley Engineering Company
  • Jon Loeffen, Senior Director, Technology & Telecommunications at Northeast Service Cooperative
  • Melissa Wolf, Government Relations Manager, Midco
  • Question: Any tips or recommendations for the Border to Border grants?
    The $5 million cap makes it difficult to extend the network to new areas
    The low density pilot program ($10 million cap) is exciting.  With lower caps, it’s tough to make a business case for building broadband to some areas.
    The staff at OBD is amazing.
    The Line Extension program should help folks who are close to middle mile but not close enough.
  • Question: What make a strong community for partnership?
    Minnesota is the gold standard
  • Question: What about the challenge process?
    It’s getting more and more complex. Minnesota is ahead of the game – but getting a heads up on challenges early in the game.
    The border to border challenge comes down to getting relationships nailed down with providers.
  • Q: There’s a lot of money coming in. Will labor be an issue for many large projects?
    A skilled workforce is a challenge. We’ve been engaging our local colleges more.
    It takes a year for our new hires to be self led.
    Managing expectations is a big deal.
  • Question: what if you don’t have a local champion
    Reach out to incumbent provider
  • Question: How can the state help keep broadband affordable?
    Need to balance cost with affordability. RDOF at least understood a formula for the balance.
    Grants help with build out but not maintenance.
    As a cooperative, we have a slower expectation for ROI but we need to make sure we are paying bills. We also help to maximize the use by our stakeholders.
  • Question: How does county map fiber when providers don’t want to share the info?
    It adds to the delay in design and deployment.
    Develop the relationship to build trust. There are issues with publishing data on networks. State of MN has a map that works. Also need to work on awards.
  • Questions: Are there barriers we have not yet addressed?
    High cost to get to some areas.
    Things can time and don’t always coincide with construction seasons.
    Staying on budget and on time is tough.
    Overlapping windows of grant application announcements and awards.
    Rights of way are an issue – access to poles and private easement
  • Question: What about the solution? What new technologies can help?
    There’s more technology going into the networks everyday. Provider managed wifi is now standard. GIS mapping has helped with permitting but in the end, we’re still dealing with lack of connectivity to end user. Fixed Wireless is a rising star.
    Part of the solution is what we’re doing here today.
  • Question: How can small companies work with large providers?
    Given them my name.
    We have a number of subcontractors; we like folks from the area. We’re always open.

2:45 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Break

3:00 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. Local Coordination: How to Get Involved The state’s broadband success will rely on strong stakeholder engagement and input. This session will feature speakers discussing how everyone can have a voice and share needs, challenges, and solutions to specific broadband access problems across the state.

Moderator: Scott Cole, CEO / Co-Founder, Collectivity

  • Elliot Christensen, Planner and Grant Writer, Lower Sioux Indian Community
  • Steve Fenske, General Counsel, MN Association of Townships
  • Dawn Hegland, Executive Director, Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission
  • Nancy Hoffman, Executive Director, Chisago County HRA-EDA
  • Daniel Lightfoot, Intergovernmental Relations & Federal Relations Manager, League of Minnesota Cities
  • Question: What starts/moves the movement for better broadband?
    The built a team.
    Someone had a specific need.
    They started by talking to the incumbent providers.
    They all invested local dollars.
    Survey residents.
  • Q: Who are the right folks for a team?
    It depends on the community. It might be healthcare or workforce.
  • Q: Who wasn’t at the table and how could you improve?
    There are two part of broadband: broadband and digital equity. We need to work on take rates.
  • Q: Is each town different or are there commonalities?
    There are some models to choose from. Some will work some places and others won’t. But providers working with communities seems to work well most places.

3:45 p.m. – 4:15 p.m. Next Steps: Barriers and Tools to Break Them Down This session will focus on how community members can participate in the state’s broadband grant programs and provide input. It’ll also highlight resources that are available to communities at the state and federal level.

Moderator: Benya Kraus Beacom, VP of Civic Ventures, Lead for America – American Connection Corps

  • Tom Karst, Federal Program Officer for Minnesota, NTIA
  • Hannah Buckland, Digital Equity Program Lead, Office of Broadband Development, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
  • Diane Wells, Deputy Director, Office of Broadband Development, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development

4:15 p.m. Closing and Thank You

  • Bree Maki, Executive Director, Office of Broadband Development, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
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About Ann Treacy

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

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