About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

Tax changes could make it harder for cooperatives to provide broadband

As if policy and technology weren’t enough to make it hard to understand broadband for your community – we can now throw in taxes! But the devil is in the details and understanding the policy, technology and taxes helps your community make god choices when it comes to getting better broadband.

The Institute for Local Self Reliance reports

For many rural Americans, the local electric or telephone cooperative is their best hope for finally obtaining modern-day connectivity. With the support of government funding, rural cooperatives have brought electricity, telephone service, and more recently broadband access to some of the most rugged and sparsely populated places in the country.

However, recent tax code changes might prevent co-ops from connecting more rural communities. Cooperatives could potentially lose their tax exempt status if they accept government grants for broadband expansion and disaster recovery — an unintended yet foreseeable consequence of the Republican “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” passed late last year. In a press release, Senator Tina Smith called attention to the oversight, noting, “This uncertainty has caused cooperatives significant concern and frozen some of their grant applications.”

They outline the specifics of the tax code and policy and mention what Senator Smith is going to propose to improve the situation…

To ensure that convoluted tax policy isn’t standing in the way of better connectivity for millions of rural residents, Senator Smith plans to introduce legislation that would ensure government grants are not counted as income for the purpose of a telephone or electric cooperative’s tax-exempt status. In the meantime, she requested that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig take action to address the co-ops’ concerns.

Lake County gets 4 bids for their fiber network

The Lake County News Chronicle reports

The Lake County Board of Commissioners learned four entities submitted bids for Lake Connections, the county’s municipal broadband project.

The initial bidding period ended Nov. 2 with Lake Partners, Hanson Communications, Mediacom Communications Corp. and Cooperative Light and Power (CLP) in Two Harbors submitting bids, along with a $100,000 deposit, for the network. They will have the opportunity to submit a “best and final offer,” according to the terms of the sale set by the county and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS).

The County received federal ARRA funding (loan ($56M) and grant ($10)) to build the network in 2010. After ups and downs that network was mostly completed in 2015. IN 2015, the County invested another $15 million and the FCC awarded a grant of $3.5 million.

The article continues…

In June 2017, the county entered into a deferral agreement with RUS for principal and interest on the condition the county sell the network to a private company or entity. Two months later, the county executed a memorandum of understanding with RUS in which RUS agreed to accept to the sale price of Lake Connections in full satisfaction of the county’s debt for construction of the network.

The county board is reviewing the bids, according to County Administrator Matt Huddleston, and specific bid information was not provided. Since there were fewer than five bids, Pinpoint Holdings Inc. in Cambridge, Neb., will also have a chance to make a final bid for the network.

In late July, Pinpoint offered $3.5 million for the network in an initial bid that set the baseline price for the network.

Two bidders, Mediacom and CLP, have conflicted with the network in the past.

The deadline for bids is Nov 29; the County is scheduled to make a decision on Dec 11.

Medical Licensure Compacts makes Telehealth easier in Minnesota

MHealth Intelligence reports on policies that will smooth the path to more telehealth usage…

More than 3,000 US physicians have received permission to practice in multiple states through the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, giving them the opportunity to expand their practice through telehealth and telemedicine.

According to the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Commission, a branch of the Federation of State Medical Boards, 3,426 medical licenses have been by medical boards in member states since the launch of the Compact in April 2017. The IMLCC, meanwhile, has processed 1,867 applications and 497 licenses have been renewed through the compact.

Minnesota part of the compact…

Launched as a means of expediting the licensure process for physicians looking to practice in more than one state, the compact has been approved in the District of Colombia, Guam and 24 states: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Iron Range Rep Ecklund positive about future state broadband funding

The Mesabi Daily News reports on the impact of the elections on the Iron Range…

Three of the Iron Range districts in the Minnesota House will be in the majority come January after Democrats flipped 18 seats in the chamber for a seven-seat advantage.

The Senate remains Republican controlled by one vote, setting up the only split Legislature in the nation, alongside DFL Gov. Tim Walz.

Tuesday’s midterm election produced DFL winners in Dave Lislegard (House 6B), Julie Sandstede (House 6A) and Rob Ecklund (House 3A). Republican Sandy Layman won re-election in House 5B.

And some optimism on broadband funding in the legislature…

Ecklund said he believes the House changing will positively impact the 3A district.

“I think we’ll see some serious money going into rural broadband,” Ecklund told the Ely Echo. “It will be good for all of northeastern Minnesota and all of rural Minnesota. I look at broadband as a utility.”

New Toolkit to Answer Your Library’s Tech Questions

There’s a new toolkit to help rural and tribal librarians work with technology. It includes things like:

  • Technology Inventory
  • Types of broadband services and activities they support
  • Technical staff and support required
  • Broadband funding (E-rate and more)
  • Best practices – including training, acceptable use policies and filtering
  • Technology planning templates

Some parts are pretty library-specific but many could spur conversations with other community institutions or communities in general. You can learn more from this handy video…

Tracking Legislature that Expands Broadband

Pew recently posted an article on federal and state legislation aimed at expanding broadband. Here’s the federal legislation…

Since January 2017, the beginning of the 115th Congress, lawmakers have addressed broadband in many bills. Here’s a breakdown of several notable measures by theme:

Funding and authorizing broadband expansion: The fiscal year 2018 spending bill that President Donald Trump signed in March included $600 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) “e-Connectivity Pilot Program,” which will support broadband projects in rural areas. The spending law also gives the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) $7.5 million to work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enhance the national broadband map, which depicts broadband availability and speed across the country.

Legislation proposed for this fiscal year would provide more funds for  USDA’s e-Connectivity Pilot Program: $550 million in the House-passed version of the Department of Agriculture appropriations bill and $425 million in the Senate-passed version. Pending legislation would also maintain funding for NTIA’s map modernization effort.

The 2018 farm bill—legislation authorizing federal agriculture and rural development programs—has not yet been signed into law, but the House- and Senate-passed versions would authorize new USDA grants for rural broadband deployment projects. The Senate version also includes up to $50 million for the existing Community Connect grant program.

Bolstering research: The fiscal 2018 spending law also includes measures to bolster federal government research on broadband connectivity. It requires the FCC to issue a report to Congress on the status of broadband availability to military veterans who are low-income or live in rural areas. It also requires the FCC to establish a methodology for consistently collecting wireless coverage data about speed and reliability. And the fiscal year 2019 John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act, which the president signed in August, requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study evaluating the impact of broadband speed and price on small businesses. Another measure, which has not become law, would require the Bureau of Economic Analysis to assess, analyze, and submit a biennial report to Congress regarding the effects of broadband deployment and adoption on the U.S. economy.

Streamlining federal broadband policymaking efforts: Congress is considering measures that would improve the efficiency and execution of federal efforts to expand broadband connectivity. The proposed Senate and House farm bills establish a task force within the FCC for meeting the connectivity and technology needs of precision agriculture in the U.S.  The House bill also establishes minimal acceptable service standards for rural projects seeking funding from the USDA. Other bills streamline the permitting process for broadband deployment projects; establish an Office of Rural Broadband within the FCC to bolster its coordination with other federal agencies; and create an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within NTIA to develop training and guidance to promote broadband development in underserved communities.

In addition to these themes, Congress is also considering measures to expand access in tribal areas and bring or restore broadband to disaster-stricken areas.

They track state legislation by looking at which states provide public funding for broadband, regulatory reform (tax breaks, dig once, et al) and research. From the Minnesota perspective we legiaslation place, such as the statutory speed goals, and we have research in the form of mapping. We have the Office of Broadband Development, which is well regarded. We have the Broadband Task Force, but it sunsets after this year. And in the past we have had state grant funding for broadband, but last year the funding didn’t pass. It will be interesting to see what the new Governor and Legislators due with the current Task Force’s recommendations, which includes an extension for the Task Force and continued funding.

Blockchain voting tested with West Virginians abroad

I thought this was fascinating. The Washington Post reports…

Nearly 140 West Virginians living abroad in 29 countries have cast their election ballots in an unprecedented pilot project that involves voting remotely by mobile device, according to state officials.

Here’s how it works…

The Voatz app has been used on a limited basis in a number of other settings, such as student council races and West Virginia’s May primary. But Election Day represents the company’s biggest test yet.

To cast a ballot, voters must first register through the app by uploading an image of their driver’s license or other photo identification. Then the app instructs them to submit a short video of their own face. Facial recognition technology supplied by a voter’s iPhone or Android device matches the video against the photo ID, and the personal information on the ID is matched to West Virginia’s voter registration database. Once the verification is complete, voters can make their selections and confirm their ballot by fingerprint or facial recognition.

Hilary Braseth, Voatz’s director of product design, said that in addition to using technology for verification, the company also has human workers manually reviewing the submitted information. The company does not store the personal data once a voter’s identity has been confirmed, she said.

Votes are stored on a private blockchain — essentially a database where records are secured using complex computational algorithms — and unlocked by county clerks when the polls close.

“When they take the votes from the blockchain, it will immediately print onto a paper ballot — just like the same look and feel of what voters are physically voting with on Election Day,” Braseth said. “And then those paper ballots will be fed into the tabulating machines on the ground at the state level.”

Overseas voters who used Voatz will receive an anonymized copy of the ballot that they submitted remotely; another copy will be made available to Warner’s office for auditing purposes.