MN Broadband Task Force Feb 2023: winding down the Task Force

The theme for the day is really winding down the Task Force. The last meeting will be in March. It sounds like applications for the next iteration of the Task Force will be make available any day now.

The expectation is that broadband funding at the legislature will be part of an agriculture omnibus, which should be made public soon. Non-funding broadband-related bills include an effort to include fixed wireless into the Border to Border grant definitions such as to define served and unserved areas. There’s also a bill to provide tax rebates for fiber purchases.

They also heard a lot about computer science in the schools.

Legislative Update by Deven Bowdry, DEED

Broadband is quiet at the broadband. DEED will put in their ask from the Governor in the next couple of weeks. It will come out as part of an omnibus bill, probably with ag. They should have been released two weeks ago but it’s been very busy.

Two industry bills introduced but neither scheduled for a meeting:

  • HF1441 – add fixed wireless to definition of served/unserved and add mapping
  • HF1792 – tax rebates for fiber purchases between 2018-2023.

Q: Do you think there will be other bills introduced?
There may be some stand alone bills looking at low density issues. But no word yet.

10:20 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Office of Broadband Development Update by Bree Maki, Executive Director

  • OBD hired a new grant administrator Mike Weimer, previously from Mille Lacs County. Looking to hire one more and some other positions.
  • Line Extension is still taking applications: so far they have 1261 applications; 1093 are homes, the rest are business
  • Border to Border grants are due March 2
  • The Task Force has one more meeting but the Governor is looking for applicants for the next Task Force
  • There is a digital inclusion are on the PBD website. We are accepting committee members for planning and there are local grants available for planning – the deadline in March 3.
  • We are working on a pre-giant RFP to get providers in the mix to get future funds
  • We are going to the regional meetings hosted by the townships.

Q: Will there be more state funding rounds this year?
Only if the budget in Leg now passes – not with federal dollars. Even the pre-plan is probably slated for next year.

Q: Is there a timeline for the next Task Force?
They should have already opened up applications but it hasn’t happened yet. They will send an email to the Task Force when it’s open

Overview of Le Sueur County Broadband Activities with Barbara Dröher Kline, Le Sueur County Broadband Initiative

  • MN is a State supervised County run system
  • Got into Blandin programming in 2018
  • Did a survey to track what was happening and to gather email addresses to keep people informed
  • 2019 – partnered with Bevcomm – county put up the money and the townships will pay back – but we can’t do that again. It leads to property tax issues
  • 2020 – we got CARES funding and became an online Blandin Broadband community. We did a lot of broadband work in 2020
  • 2021 – we were RDOF’ed. We could no longer apply for funds because LTD Broadband got dibs on federal funding through RDOF. They were not working with us. We were working with other providers.
  • We have more than 400 applicants for line extension programs.
  • We set up a map to show where we had needs. It’s a map that anyone can use.
  • We joined MAPCED and they are really working on broadband.
  • How do we get counties involved with broadband?
    Look at Blandin report.
    How do we move forward without Blandin? ILSR is doing training – maybe they are try to do it.
    How do we continue the Blandin on Broadband blog?
    Maybe County Extension can do some training? They did it years ago.
    We’re not done getting connected

Q: What questions moving forward?
We have a company that has fiber in the ground but the company was sold so the fiber is unused. We need funding at 75/25 match because it’s too expensive to deploy to the last residents.

Q: For folks who have broadband what is it like?
We have a dentist with 2 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up – so even many of out towns aren’t connected. We will be getting a lot of complaints this week for broadband and the weather. Fixed wireless is fine until the snow and ice come. Schools are doing distance learning and it will be tough.

State of Computer Science Education in Minnesota with Sarah Carter, STEM/Computer Science Integration Specialist, Minnesota Department of Education

  • Minnesota is worst for providing computer science classes
  • Schools with more money in MN have more compsci classes
  • So what is MN doing?
    Integrated computer into all classes
    Starting after school clubs et al
    There’s no compsci license in MN
    MN signed a compsci compact
    Proposing grants to deploy compsci
    Including compsci standards with the rest
    Creating resources for teachers

Current Context of Computer Science Education in Minnesota with Dr. Lana Peterson, Director of Community Engagement for the Learning + Technologies Collaborative at the University of Minnesota

  • Doing research on how to do new things
  • Kids want to learn computers – it’s a class that allows for problem solving and creative thinking
  • Local change agents are essential
  • A centralized nonprofit might be able to make change happen faster than the State

Sounds like one issue is that Minnesota had an organization that focused on computer science in the schools (TIES) and I remember they even provider Internet access to teacher across the state in the 1990s. But for many reasons, they morphed into something different and the edge they had – going back decades ago – were lost.

Public Comment, Other Business, Future Plans for March 27, 2023 Meeting, Wrap-up

 

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