About Ann Treacy

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

Follow up from Internet for All: Connecting One Minnesota from Bree Maki

Last week, the Office of Broadband Development hosted Internet for All: Connecting One Minnesota. Today, with permission, I’m sharing the follow up note attendees received from Bree Maki, Executive Director of the Office of Broadband Development…

Greetings,Thank you so much for joining us on January 25, 2023 for the Internet for All: Connecting One Minnesota event.  We hope that you found the day worth your time and enjoyed meeting new partners and connecting with old friends.  Minnesota has a long history of working together to achieve broadband access and we look forward to continuing this work with our Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) and Digital Equity plans.  We are so thankful for all of our co-hosts – National Telecommunications & Information Administration, Association of Minnesota Counties, League of Minnesota Cities, and the Minnesota Association of Townships.  This event could not have been as robust without the talented, knowledgeable, and willing panelists, speakers, moderators, and staff that worked so hard to make it a success.

Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Plan

While we don’t anticipate knowing how much BEAD funding the state will receive until June 30th, we are working to develop the required Five Year Action Plan which is due July 12, 2023. The Five Year Plan will address Minnesota’s goals and objectives and inform the subsequent Initial and Final Proposals for BEAD funding. While many of the requirements for the BEAD Plan will be based on Minnesota’s existing statutory goals, established Border to Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant program, and priority uses outlined in the NTIA Notice of Funding Opportunity, we will be engaging with our partners to help inform and guide our work and fill in any areas where we have the discretion to enhance efforts regarding infrastructure deployment. With that in mind, if you would like to meet and discuss ideas for how we can improve the Border to Border grant program or the work of our office, or if there are barriers that need to be addressed to ensure programmatic success, please reach out to us at deed.broadband@state.mn.us to schedule a meeting.

Digital Equity Plan

This winter and spring, we are excited to begin crafting Minnesota’s Digital Equity Plan. The DE Plan—which is different from the BEAD 5-Year plan, even as they will overlap—will address barriers people experience when trying to afford internet service, acquire an internet-enabled device, and develop digital skills. To ensure the plan is truly Minnesota’s plan, we encourage local participation in Digital Connection Committees (briefly and previously dubbed “digital inclusion planning teams”).  A wide variety of entities—including political subdivisions, non-profits, anchor institutions, faith-based organizations, MN-based businesses, and more—can form Digital Connection Committees. Committees receive planning updates from OBD while gathering information about local digital inclusion strengths and needs for inclusion in the DE Plan. Committees’ participation is voluntary; the workload is flexible based on Committee capacity. To support Digital Connection Committees, OBD will provide resources, templates, and general guidance. OBD is also offering non-competitive mini-grants to eligible Committees. A brief application is required, due March 3 at 3:00 p.m. Central. For more information or to register a Committee, please see the attached handout, visit OBD’s digital inclusion webpage, or contact Hannah Buckland, Digital Equity Program Lead, at hannah.buckland@state.mn.us.

Again, thank you for your support and interest in assisting the Office of Broadband Development in this important work.

Senator Smith highlights federal benefits in MN including broadband

The Worthington Globe reports

In the face of relentless breaking news cycles, it’s often difficult to step back and reflect on the big stuff. As we take stock at the beginning of 2023, the last two years of legislating in Washington have been the most productive in decades, to the great benefit of Minnesota.

After talking for decades, we passed a transformational infrastructure plan to modernize water systems, broadband internet, roads and bridges. We passed a landmark gun safety law, and a new law that’s already boosting our global competitiveness and bringing manufacturing home to America. We secured the pensions of hard working Teamsters, and we passed the most important expansion of veterans’ health care benefits in a generation for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits and radioactive waste. …

The best part is that Minnesotans are already seeing the results of this work. We’ve jump-started projects across our state to replace outdated utilities systems, expand broadband, build electric vehicle charging stations, and rebuild roads and bridges. Our efforts in Washington fueled the innovative work of Governor (Tim) Walz to train over 1,300 nursing assistants and fill some of the most in-demand health care jobs.

OPPORTUNITY: AARP Community Challenge grant applications are open

The Institute for Local Self Reliance reports

AARP has announced it is accepting applications for its seventh annual Community Challenge grant program, a funding source for nonprofit organizations and governmental entities to apply for “quick-action” projects that make communities more livable and have the potential to seed long-term change.

Previous grant awards were given for a wide-range of initiatives, including a 2021 project that provided Wi-Fi, smart home devices, a computer lab and digital literacy programming for older adults in a public housing development in Jersey City, NJ; and a 2019 program to help bridge the digital divide and social isolation by funding a hotspot lending program that distributed 60 hotspot devices.

This year, two new grant award categories have been established in addition to the Flagship Grants awarded in previous years. The two new grant categories are Capacity-Building Microgrants and Demonstration Grants.

Applications are due by March 15. Grant award winners will be announced on June 28 for projects that must be completed by November 30.

Update on MN PUC LTD Broadband situation – no update from FCC

This is an ongoing saga that many of us are watching closely and some might want a little recap…

The Minnesota PUC decided to continue to move forward looking at revoking LTD Broadband’s ETC designation. (Background: LTD was awarded an opportunity to apply for$311 million in federal RDOF funding. They needed the ETC designation from the MN PUC to qualify; industry folks asked the MN PUC to rethink their designation because there were concerns about LTD being able to fulfill the contract. Last month, their application for RDOF was rejected.)

The latest update is a letter from LTD Broadband reporting that they have asked the FCC to reconsider their decision…

LTD Broadband submitted an Application for Reconsideration (AFR) to the FCC on September 8, 2022. As of February 1, 2023 this application remains pending and the FCC has taken no action

Beltrami Electric Cooperative gets $22.7 million USDA loan for smart grid technology (Polk County)

The USDA reports

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the Department is investing $2.7 billion to help 64 electric cooperatives and utilities (PDF, 175 KB) expand and modernize the nation’s rural electric grid and increase grid security.

Investment included Minnesota…

USDA is investing in 64 projects through the Electric Loan Program. This funding will benefit nearly 2 million rural people and businesses in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Here are some details…

Minnesota’s Beltrami Electric Cooperative is receiving a $22.7 million loan to connect 1,480 consumers and build and improve 225 miles of line. The loan includes $1.3 million for smart grid technologies. Beltrami Electric is headquartered in Bemidji, Minnesota. It serves 21,772 consumers in portions of Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Hubbard, Itasca and Koochiching counties with 3,500 miles of distribution line covering approximately 3,000 square miles.

And hope for the future…

In the coming months, USDA will announce additional energy infrastructure financing. The Biden-Harris Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act provided more than $12 billion to USDA for loans and grants to expand clean energy, transform rural power production, create jobs and spur economic growth. This funding will help make energy cleaner, more reliable and more affordable.

MN Broadband Task Force Meeting Jan 2023 – general updates

Today the MN Broadband Task Force met to get general updates from Office of Broadband Development and Legislature. There is clearly a concern that there are not strong advocates at the legislature despite the $276 million set in Governor’s budget. Hearing about the federal funding, it is clear that it will not come quickly but there are opportunities for local communities to get involved. For example, Region 9 is looking at hosting a broadband conference for their community.

Next meetings are Feb 22 and March 27.

Here are details.

10:00 a.m. – 10:05 a.m. – Welcome, Task Force Introductions, and Approval of Minutes from December 19 and December 22 meetings

10:05 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. – Legislative Update by Deven Bowdry, DEED

  • Governor recommendation is $138Million per year for the biennium
  • Bree and/or Teddy have presented to various Legislative committees
  • No broadband bills yet
  • Lots of new bill makers (Ecklund is gone; broadband in new committee) – so people have questions about mobile vs fiber and what speeds mean

Q: Will there be a day of the hill?
There was a one for the providers – but not others.
MN Broadband Coalition is not in a position to do a day on the hill; apparently we had a bill due but we’re trying to move forward. We need to convene a meeting. We’d like to at least have a lobby day.

10:10 a.m. – 10:40 a.m. How Can the Task Force Advocate for Broadband Funding at the Legislature? – Nathan Zacharias, Technology Policy Analyst, Association of Minnesota Counties

Tips for lobbying

  • Have a factsheet (map of availability with quick facts, available federal funds, speed goals, suggested funding level)
  • Get testimony and/or write letters
  • Work with committee chairs when you can – also vice chairs and minority leads

Q: Can we look for better than 50 percent match? Can we figure out how much of property tax is going into Border to Border funds already?
Some folks don’t have enough of a tax base to match grants.

10:40 a.m. – 10:50 a.m.  – Office of Broadband Development Update by Bree Maki, Executive Director

  • Border conference 242 people in person and 193 online (registered)
  • We heard from past three Task Force chairs
  • We will be doing a survey to see if folks want another conference knowing that we’re missing another conference planner

10:50 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Line Extension Program Update by Bree Maki

  • $15 million
  • People can apply online or via paper to report their unserved address
  • 856 applicants so far (in 3 months) – 53 are businesses
  • Trying to connect with providers
  • We think we have funds for about 600 line extensions

Q: Any consideration of accelerating the process?
Not with all of the other things are happening. For example some addresses may be served from recent grant recipients.

Q: Le Sueur is the project partner for this project. We have a lot of fiber in the ground but it’s middle mile. How can we as a county engage with the process? DO we need to rely on vendors? Can we get the addresses?
People have to register themselves. Getting the word out there is most important. We can’t share personal address info.

Q: Is the map available on the website?
No.

Q: Is there any thought to recommend to legislature to improve on the $5 million cap and 50 percent match?
The low density pilot project is still being tested. We reach capacity even with 50 percent match so we’re hard to push on that. There is an interest in going to a $10 million cap and it sounds like folks are talking about it. There are a lot of unknowns.
An Analysis of last year’s applications to see how much of state funding was property taxes.
Association of Townships is working on this.

11:00 a.m. – 11:10 a.m. Border-to-Border Grant Program Update by Diane Wells, Deputy Director, Office of Broadband Development

  • Awarded $100M to 62 projects in December 2022 – leverage was $152M
  • Opened the latest round of grants ($42M in ARPA and $25M State), pre-applications were due Jan 19 – applications due March 2 – hope to announce awards by late Spring
  • 25-30 projects are still open
  • BEAD funding – working with $5M planning grant. Five year plan due July 2023. Each state will receive at least $100M. Goals: 1: reach unserved, reach unserved, get Gig to anchor institutes. Some indication that we might get $650M total (so another extra $550M; we should know mid-June.)
  • First 20 percent of funding might not be released until mid-2024. There will be 4-years for implementation.

Q: ON the maps … just heard there were one million locations added to maps? Has Connected Nation been able to see anomalies? I know of locations that are misrepresented.
Availability of service is best known by person at that location. So we asked folks to report anomalies. The FCC used a fabric developed by Costquest – one option we have is to use them to try to sync with them or we have decided to work with local source to build a map. That will help us challenge. Some providers have reported to the FCC using different methods. Without the fabric in place first, we’re at a disadvantage. We didn’t do a bulk challenges of addresses but it looks like those who did were rejected.

Q: In Le Sueur we made a push to improved maps – but we’re having trouble even getting surveys done online because the broadband is poor.
The OBD staff is all remote and many rural – they are acutely aware of issues. We hope to get more engaged to document in five year plan.

11:10 a.m. – 11:20 a.m.                Break

11:20 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Digital Equity Update – Hannah Buckland, Digital Equity Program Lead, Office of Broadband Development

  • Digital Equity Act – not BEAD – Due Nov 30, 2023 – then we send in a noncompete application.
  • There are 15 aspects we need to address in the capacity grant application.
  • There are opportunities for communities to get involved and for communities to get funding to get involved.

11:30 a.m. – 11:50 a.m. Input from Governor’s Task Force Members

Q: What can we do to push the issue at the legislature?
We could be at the legislature. Talk to legislators.

11:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.  Public Comment, Other Business, Future Speakers for February 22 and March 27, 2023 Meetings, Wrap-up

EVENT Feb 1: Broadband Budget at MN Senate Committee Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee

Happening tomorrow…

Feb 1 at 3pm
Chair: 
Senator Aric Putnam

Location: 1150 Minnesota Senate Bldg.

If you wish to testify on SF 548, please email the Committee Administrator, Hunter Pederson, at hunter.pederson@senate.mn by 12:00 p.m. (noon) on Tuesday 01/31. Please include your name/the testifier’s name, title, and organization.

Agenda:

  • Call to Order

  • Governor’s Budget Presentation- Broadband Items

  • S.F. 0548  Putnam

    Rural Finance Authority bond issue and appropriation

EVENT Jan 31: MN Broadband Task Force

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
Tuesday, January 31, 2023
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
 Click here to join the meeting
Meeting ID: 242 404 479 485
Passcode: uwn3VA
Video Conference ID: 116 345 427 6

10:00 a.m. – 10:05 a.m. – Welcome, Task Force Introductions, and Approval of Minutes from December 19 and December 22 meetings

10:05 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. – Legislative Update by Deven Bowdry, DEED

10:10 a.m. – 10:40 a.m. How Can the Task Force Advocate for Broadband Funding at the Legislature? – Nathan Zacharias, Technology Policy Analyst, Association of Minnesota Counties

10:40 a.m. – 10:50 a.m.  – Office of Broadband Development Update by Bree Maki, Executive Director

10:50 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Line Extension Program Update by Bree Maki

  • About the Program
  • Submissions so far with hot spots
  • Timeline

11:00 a.m. – 11:10 a.m. Border-to-Border Grant Program Update by Diane Wells, Deputy Director, Office of Broadband Development

  • Past Round and Future Round updates – where at with both grant rounds
  • Money given out and future money coming from NTIA
  • Low-Density Pilot Program

11:10 a.m. – 11:20 a.m.                Break

11:20 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Digital Equity Update – Hannah Buckland, Digital Equity Program Lead, Office of Broadband Development

11:30 a.m. – 11:50 a.m. Input from Governor’s Task Force Members

11:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.  Public Comment, Other Business, Future Speakers for February 22 and March 27, 2023 Meetings, Wrap-up

 

EVENT Feb 13: Affordable Connectivity Program Sign Up Day in Ball Club (Itasca County)

News for folks in Itasca County and an idea for folks who aren’t…

Paul Bunyan Communications, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and the Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) are holding a sign-up day for the Affordable Connectivity Program, on Monday, February 13 from 1-6 p.m. at the Lone Eagle Community Center in Ball Club.

This new long-term benefit will help to lower the cost of broadband service for eligible households struggling to afford internet service and provides a discount of up to a $30 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for qualifying households on qualifying Tribal lands.

A household is eligible if one member of the household meets at least one of the criteria below:

  • Has an income that is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines;
  • Participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC, or Lifeline;
  • Participates inone of several Tribal specific programs, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal Head Start (only households meeting the relevant income qualifying standard) Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
  • Is approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband provider’s existing low-income program.

Eligible households can enroll at the sign-up event, through a participating broadband provider, or by going to ACPBenefit.org to submit an online application or print a mail-in application and contacting their preferred participating broadband provider and selecting a plan.  Additional information about the Affordable Connectivity Program Benefit is available at www.fcc.gov/ACP, or by calling 877-384-2575 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET any day of the week.

More on Border to Border grants in Dakota County

Hometown Source reports…

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is awarding approximately $98,750 to deliver broadband infrastructure to 68 households and one business in northwest Dakota County, including portions of Apple Valley and Lakeville – all which lack access to qualifying broadband service today, according to a news release from Rep. John Huot’s office.

More info on the project…

As a result of this broadband grant, Spectrum Mid-America, managed by Charter Communications Inc., will improve broadband service levels, exceeding 2026 state speed goals. The high bandwidth broadband access will assist residents with remote learning and remote working, accommodate members of a household or small business simultaneously using bandwidth-intensive applications, such as video conferencing, telemedicine, video streaming, gaming, virtual or augmented reality sessions, and numerous other applications, the release said. The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was created in 2014. The legislative focus of this grant program is to provide financial resources that help make the business case for new and existing providers to invest in building broadband infrastructure into unserved and underserved areas of the state. The Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program has been funded with state general fund revenues and a combination of both state general fund revenues and the federal American Rescue Plan Act, according to the release.

More on Border to Border grants in in Houston and Winona Counties

News 8000 reports…

A nearly $2.9 million grant will improve high speed internet connections in Houston and Winona Counties.

The grant comes as part of Minnesota’s ‘Border-to-Border Broadbrand Grants’ program.

The grant will allow Acentek to bring speeds of up to a gigabyte to 900 locations in the counties.

The state’s 2022 and 2026 state speed goals will be exceeding in the area with the grant’s help and it will be paired with $6.7 million from other local sources.

More than $23 million in grants will be distributed to 30 projects across the state.

MN House take on Governor Walz’s broadband budget

The MN House of Representatives reports on the MN House Ag Finance and Policy Committee Meeting yesterday…

Time is running out to meet Minnesota’s statutory goal to get high-speed internet to all households by 2026.

Nearly 300,000 households do not have access to 100 megabits per second download speeds, which should allow family members to stream, game and Zoom without much trouble.

While 88% of the state can get internet at that speed, only 62% of rural areas can, a reflection of how installation costs per household skyrockets as population density goes down.

A large infusion of cash would put the state much closer to its goal.

Gov. Tim Walz is proposing more than $275 million for the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which funds expansion of internet to underserved areas.

The governor’s budget recommendation presented to the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee Thursday calls for $138 million in each of the next two years to fund grants assisting with middle-mile and last-mile broadband infrastructure. Money could be used for design, permits, installation and testing.

This past year, the Office of Broadband Development distributed $99.6 million in 61 grants out of 130 applications requesting a total of $189.8 million.

Typical grants require a 50% match with a cap of $5 million. However, the broadband office had run a pilot program for very low-density areas with a $10 million cap. The grant could provide 75% of the money.

The office tries to be agnostic as far as the technology, whether fiber, satellite or mobile, said Director Bree Maki, but wired connections have often been more reliable. There is a push, especially when working with federal money, to ensure projects can be built upon, allowing greater speed or reliability in the future.

OPPORTUNITY: Become a Leading Edge Fellow at ILSR

The Institute for Local Self Reliance is looking for interesting help…

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is pleased to announce that it has been selected by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) as a host organization for a Leading Edge Fellowship for the second time. The application window has opened for recent PhDs in the humanities to apply for a two-year, full-time fellowship to be a Tribal Broadband Policy Analyst. The fellow will continue and contribute to foundational work by ILSR on Internet access in Indian Country while gaining experience in the regular portfolio of research and policy activities by the Community Broadband Networks initiative at ILSR.

Read about the requirements and learn more about the fellowship here. Then, apply here! The deadline is March 15, 2023 at 9:00pm EDT.

Do you have a broadband story to tell? Give it to the FCC

The FCC is looking for stories to help them with their efforts to prevent digital discrimination. If you have a story, please share it with the FCC- and you’re welcome to send to me as well and perhaps I could share it here too…

The FCC’s Task Force to Prevent Digital Discrimination today announced it is offering consumers an opportunity to share their stories and experiences in obtaining broadband internet access. Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel established the Task Force to serve as a cross-agency effort focused on creating rules and policies to combat digital discrimination and to promote equal access to broadband access across the country, regardless of zip code, income level, ethnicity, race, religion, or national origin. …

In furtherance of the goals to create a framework for addressing digital discrimination and the FCC’s ongoing efforts to identify and address harms experienced by historically excluded and marginalized communities, this new form provides a way for consumers to share their broadband access experiences. Stories shared by consumers will help to inform the work of the Task Force. For more information about the Task Force’s work, visit the Task Force’s webpage. Interested stakeholders also can use this webpage to request meetings with the Task Force.

EVENT Jan 31: Information Session: Your role in creating Minnesota’s digital equity plan

While this event is aimed at librarians, it’s open to everyone. Librarians are pretty welcoming and ask good questions so it could be an interesting way to learn more about the Office of Broadband Development’s plan for digital equity…

Throughout 2023, the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development (OBD) is developing a statewide digital equity plan to improve internet affordability, access to internet-enabled devices, and availability of digital skills training. This plan will help direct millions of federal dollars to Minnesota for future digital-equity initiatives.

As established leaders in digital equity, libraries have an important role to play in this planning process. On Tuesday, January 31, at 2:00 p.m., please join us to learn from OBD staff about some special opportunities for libraries to contribute to the plan, including through Digital Inclusion Planning Teams, regional gatherings, and a non-competitive grant round.

Register online.