House and Senate working to reconcile broadband issues as part of larger Omnibus bill

I reported on this meeting yesterday, but here’s the official word from Session Daily

The committee received a walkthrough of HF4366, which includes differences of $180 million in housing appropriation changes in fiscal year 2023 and $185 million in the next biennium. Differences in agriculture and broadband appropriation changes are $76.4 million in fiscal year 2023 and $7.8 million in the following biennium.

Here’s the detail related to broadband…

The House would appropriate $25 million from the General Fund to the Border-to-Border Broadband Fund account as a one-time transfer in fiscal year 2023. The bill would increase the percentage of the grants to cover 75% of a project from the current 50% and would establish that grants to a single project cannot exceed $10 million, double the current level.

Establishment of a pilot program to provide broadband service to unserved and underserved areas of the state is included in the Senate bill. So is seeking to use federal funding, with a grant application program to the U.S. Department of the Treasury requesting that $110.7 million of Minnesota’s capital projects fund be allocated for grants.

[MORE: View a side-by-side comparison of the broadband portion]

MinnPost looks at PUC petition from MN Telecom folks focused on LTD Broadband

I mentioned this over the weekend and I suspect there will be more article but this has the potential to be a big deal so I’ll likely post them all.

MinnPost reports

Two trade groups have filed a petition with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission saying LTD Broadband will waste taxpayer time — and money — in the company’s bid to provide high speed broadband to roughly 160,000 people in the state.

The trade groups (MTA and MREA) say…

“Public funding is essential to bring broadband to unserved and underserved areas of rural Minnesota,” says the filing submitted by the Minnesota Telecom Alliance and the Minnesota Rural Electric Association. “But public dollars are limited, making it essential that those who obtain public funding can be counted on to deliver broadband to those areas as intended. The record will show that LTD cannot.”

LTD says…

Corey Hauer, the CEO of LTD Broadband, described the petition as a nuisance given the PUC has already approved the company. He said LTD can grow rapidly to meet the challenge of deploying a massive network of fiber-optic cable, despite having little experience building fiber, and will disrupt the industry like Elon Musk did with SpaceX and Tesla.

“The truth LTD Broadband is exposing is that deploying rural fiber is easier, faster and cheaper than the party line touted by some of our rural … competitors,” Hauer said.

What could happen…

If the PUC sides with the coalition of telecom providers and electric cooperatives, it would be the latest in a string of defeats for LTD Broadband across the country — and another reversal for a company that shocked the broadband industry by winning $1.32 billion in subsidies in 15 states from one of the country’s largest efforts to bring high-speed internet to rural areas.

20 Broadband companies poised to offer effectively free access

Yahoo Finance reports…

The Biden administration announced Monday that 20 leading internet service providers have agreed to offer basic low cost plans that will be free for millions of Americans after a refund.

The 20 companies, including AT&T (T), Comcast (CMCSA), and Verizon (VZ), cover more than 80% of the U.S. population. They will immediately provide at least one plan that costs no more than $30 a month and provides download speeds of at least 100 mbps.

The White House says that 40% of the U.S. population, about 48 million households, will be eligible to sign up through an existing program called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The program is aimed at lower income Americans and offers participants a discount of up to $30/month on their internet bill, meaning they’ll effectively get free service if they can get online with one of these participating companies.

AT&T CEO John Stankey said his company’s new plan “when combined with federal ACP benefits, provides up to 100 Mbps of free internet service.”

MN Omnibus that includes Broadband comparison Conference Committee – now each side deliberates

Today the following was held:

Conference Committee on HF4366

HF4366 (Sundin/Westrom) Omnibus agriculture, broadband and housing supplemental finance and policy bill.

Items included:
– Introductory comments.
– Walk through of side-by-sides and spreadsheet by nonpartisan House and Senate staff.
– Agency comments.

I have captured the moments related to broadband. Nothing surprising. And now the plan is for House and Senate to meet separately to decide what they can agree on easily and what will require more discussion. Then they will meet to try to come to an agreement.

St. Louis County says yes to Rice Lake broadband project

Duluth News Tribune reports

The city of Rice Lake will bring broadband internet to its City Hall and connect more than 200 households and businesses, following a decision by the St. Louis County Board last week.

The board voted unanimously to support $400,000 to go with a city of Rice Lake match to make the $835,835 deal a reality.

Consolidated Telephone Co., headquartered in Brainerd, has committed $35,835 toward the project, and is contracted to install the fiber-optic network.

“We’re looking at 267 connections with this project,” Rice Lake City Councilor Suzanne Herstad told the board May 3 in Duluth. “Hopefully, this will still be a good building block to start doing a piece here and there, setting up loops wherever we can.”

Herstad noted the failure of a larger federal application, and still wanting to partner on continued efforts at improved rural broadband connectivity with Gnesen Township to the north, and Lakewood, Grand Lake and Normanna townships in surrounding directions.

They are using ARP funding…

“This is a much-scaled-down project,” Herstad said, explaining how Rice Lake City Hall, 4107 W. Beyer Road, had been using satellite internet, but is required to hold a static internet protocol address in order to conduct election business.

MTA and MREA ask PUC to revoke LTD Broadband’s ETC designation – could impact RDOF eligibility

Minnesota Telecom Alliance and Minnesota Rural Electric Association filed a petition with the Minnesota PUC to revoke LTD Broadband’s expanded eligible telecommunications carrier (“ETC”) designation and deny LTD’s funding certification for 2023. This would impact their eligibility for federal RDOF money. Regular readers will know that LTD qualified to apply for large amounts of federal funding deployment in Minnesota (and other states) and many are wary of their ability to successfully deploy a FTTH network.

Here is the start of the petition

The Minnesota Telecom Alliance (“MTA”)1 and Minnesota Rural Electric Association (“MREA”)2 hereby jointly submit this petition under Minn. Stat. § 216A.05, subd. 5 to initiate a proceeding to revoke the expanded eligible telecommunications carrier (“ETC”) designation of LTD Broadband LLC (“LTD”) and deny LTD’s funding certification for 2023.

On June 3, 2021, the Commission issued an Order that expanded LTD’s ETC designation to include approximately 102,000 additional locations in Minnesota (“LTD Expansion Order”).3 LTD sought that designation to qualify for $311 million in support under the federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”) to build and operate a fiber-to-the-premise (“FTTP”) broadband network in Minnesota. 4 That funding was part of LTD’s bid to obtain approximately $1.3 billion in RDOF funding for 528,088 locations in 15 states. 5 Since the LTD Expansion Order in June of last year, LTD has failed to obtain ETC designations for RDOF funding in seven of those 15 states. Most recently, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (“SD PUC”) denied LTD’s request for an expanded ETC designation related to RDOF support for 7,481 locations in South Dakota.6 The SD PUC’s decision was based on findings that LTD lacked the ability to build and operate the South Dakota broadband network contemplated in its RDOF bid.

DEED Commissioner and Nuvera CEO talk about increased need for upload speeds in Hutchinson MN

The Hutchinson Leader reports

These days it seems that almost everyone is a content creator.

And that means it’s never been more important to have fast, reliable internet available to everyone, everywhere.

That was the message Glenn Zerbe, chief executive officer of Nuvera, shared with Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove during a roundtable discussion in mid-April.

“It’s not just Netflix creating and sending out content,” Zerbe said. “Content and creativity are coming from the home, and it’s changing everything.”

Grove agreed with the importance — and the urgency — of providing broadband internet access throughout the state. It’s been a priority at DEED and for Gov. Tim Walz’s administration for some time, including the governor’s proposal to invest $170 million — in addition to federal grant dollars — to fully connect the state.

The article also outlines what Nuvera is doing to provide better broadband…

Nuvera has been working to improve internet service in Hutchinson, connecting its fiber network to the southern half of the city’s downtown, two areas near State Highway 15 on the south side of Hutchinson, and an area around the 3M campus in 2021. In March, the company announced it is targeting several other areas, including the southwest side of the city west of Dale Street and south of the Crow River; the north half of Main Street; and the south end of Hutchinson, east of Highway 15 and north of Airport Road. Additional connections will continue in the future, with a goal of covering the entire city by 2024.

Nuvera also is working to extend its fiber network in Litchfield and Glencoe, with plans to invest at least 50% of its revenue into capital investments in 2023 in order to provide up to 1 gigabyte speeds.

Investments in internet access like those made by Nuvera are important to the state’s economy, Grove said, because of the amplified role connectivity plays during the pandemic and continues to play.

FCC announces latest RDOF winners including Cable One and Gardonville in MN

The FCC reports

The Federal Communications Commission today announced that it is ready to authorize $199,336,695 through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to fund new broadband deployments in 26 states and the Northern Mariana Islands bringing service to over 230,000 locations.  This is the ninth round of program funding since July 2021, when the Commission announced the first approvals for applicant bids meeting the stringent requirements that Chairwoman Rosenworcel put in place to ensure the integrity of the program, which draws on funding in the high-cost universal service program.

Two companies in Minnesota received funds

  • Cable One
    Census blocks: 5
    Locations: 15
    Total Award: $1,293.50
  • Gardonville:
    Census blocks: 10
    Locations: 24
    Total Award: $63903

No word about LTD Broadband

EVENT May 11: NTIA’s IIJA Broadband Programs Pre-NOFO TA Webinar #5

From NTIA…

Date: Wednesday, May 11, 2022
Time: 2:30pm-4:00pm EST
NTIA’s pre-Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) technical assistance webinars are designed to help prospective applicants understand NTIA’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) broadband grant programs and to assist applicants to prepare high quality grant applications. This webinar will focus on supply chains and workforce development.
To review information from our past pre-NOFO technical assistance webinars, please visit the past events section on the BroadbandUSA website.
For questions, please email: broadbandforall@ntia.gov.
Register now!

US Ignite shares Federal Funding Opportunity Tool for Communities

US Ignite reports

To help communities across the country navigate federal grant opportunities for broadband and smart city projects – including new programs created under the $110 billion American Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act –  US Ignite proudly unveils the new ‘Federal Funding Opportunity Tool.’ Using the tool, community leaders seeking federal funding can now target the grants that best match their needs based on areas of investment interest, funding availability, and funding requirements.

“Federal funding programs are complex, and we know that communities need support to navigate the different grant programs that exist,” said Lee Davenport, Director of Community Development at US Ignite. “Our goal is to simplify the process of finding relevant opportunities, and in doing so, help communities use federal dollars to drive local economic growth, close the digital divide, and create smarter communities as a whole.”

US Ignite developed the Federal Funding Opportunity Tool to enhance its existing Federal Funding Opportunities Database. This database originated thanks to funding from the Knight Foundation and now curates listings of federal programs with grants to support various broadband and smart city projects. While users can still browse the full database, those who are less familiar with federal programs will find the funding tool a more efficient way to navigate the opportunities available.

Municipal leaders can access the Federal Funding Opportunity Tool for free at US Ignite’s website (us-ignite.org/tools/fundings).

Stimulus dollars, including those authorized under the American Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, are destined to greatly expand federal grants across the board. For a narrative guide on the American Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act visit the two-part funding series posted on the US Ignite blog.

Connect with the US Ignite Communities team via email by contacting communities@us-ignite.org.

Introducing Blandin Foundation Rural Leadership Boost Grants

From the Blandin Foundation…

With decades of commitment to rural leaders, the Blandin Foundation is honored to extend that commitment by announcing the Rural Leadership Boost Grant Opportunity.

The last two years of complex crises have taken a toll on leaders across the United States. We seek to recognize the critical need for resources in small communities with limited resources and sparser populations who do more with less. We believe that Rural Leaders, the Dreamers & Doers, have the greatest ability to effect good community process and impact locally.

We encourage applicants to be brave, visionary and creative. You are best equipped to tell us what you need to bring people together and begin a new chapter that better positions your community to dream and meet this moment.

Rural Leadership Boost Grants

  • Range from $5,000 to $150,000
  • Communities of 20,000 or fewer
  • Projects that help communities regain balance and momentum as we all emerge from the pandemic
  • Work that aligns with Blandin Foundation’s vision, mission and values.
  • Nonprofit, government or tribal organizations can apply, or serve as fiscal agents for community efforts

Any rural leader can submit a Letter of Interest by May 18, 2022 to be considered for a grant. Select candidates will be invited to submit a full proposal and will be notified in June if project funding is awarded. If you have any questions, please send them to info@blandinfoundation.org.

Thank you for your perseverance. We look forward to hearing from you!

Malissa Bahr, Director of Leadership

Sonja Merrild, Director of Grants

Go to Letter of Interest Form

A great opportunity from an organization that understands rural communities.

MRBC Update: Senate Passes Broadband Package ($110 million)

The MN Broadband Coalition reports…

Senate Passes Broadband Package
The Minnesota Senate passed the Omnibus Agriculture, Housing, and Broadband bill yesterday 41-26. HF 4366 was received by the Senate after it passed the House earlier this week. The Senate amended the bill with a “delete everything” amendment and added their preferred spending and policy package. This includes $110 million for broadband which comes from the Capital Projects Fund. Additionally, they included language that would increase the state’s match from 50% to 75% as well as the line extension pilot program, broadband easements for cable providers, and other language directing the state to spend the forthcoming BEAD funds on the Border-to-Border program.

As a reminder, the House position is $25 million in general fund cash, no federal funding, and raising the match to 75% as well as increasing the project cap from $5 million to $10 million.

The two versions of this bill will be reconciled in a conference committee that will be appointed soon. Typical conference committees are made up of five members from the House and 5 members of the Senate. They will first work through their same and similar provisions and then tackle areas of disagreement. The Legislature must adjourn by May 23 and there is plenty of time for a deal to come together. We will keep you updated as things move forward.

Kandiyohi County spends almost $500,000 on ARPA on broadband in Hawick and around Long Lake

The West Central Tribune reports…

Over the last several weeks, the Broadband and Advanced Technology Committee has been working closely with Vibrant Broadband of the Meeker Cooperative Light and Power Association to design and obtain funding for broadband projects on the east side of the county.

The committee is part of the Kandiyohi County and city of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

“Broadband has been such a priority for us and we’ve struggled to get things moving,” said Kandiyohi County Commissioner Corky Berg.

At the April 19 County Board meeting, the commissioners approved spending $444,700 of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation toward a fiber-to-the-home broadband project in Hawick and around Long Lake. The project would reach 289 properties that are currently underserved or unserved by high-speed broadband. …

The total project is estimated to cost $1,005,000. Roseville and Irving townships will be providing $57,800 in funding for the project, with Vibrant funding the rest.

Since the county’s $8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds began to arrive, the County Board has planned to dedicate nearly 75% of it to broadband expansion. While a few of the projects need grant approvals to move forward, the county has approved funding to a handful of smaller plans.

MRBC Update: House Passes Broadband Funding

From the Minnesota Broadband Coalition…

House Passes $25 million for Broadband Funding
The Minnesota House passed HF 4366—the omnibus Agriculture, Housing, and Broadband bill—just before midnight last night 70-62. The vote came after 2 hours of debate. Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-Int’l Falls) again expressed concern that the bill’s $25 million in general fund is not a large enough investment given the need to secure funds for this summer’s construction season. He was joined by Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), who outlined the pitfalls of limited state investment and deep uncertainty of federal funding through RDOF, ARPA, and the forthcoming BEAD funds. The bill was sent to the Senate for further action.
The Senate will likely take up their own similar bill this week and pass it. The Senate version contains $110 million in Capital Projects Fund money and no general funds. We expect a conference committee to be appointed after the Senate version of the bill is passed and sent to the House. Conference Committee chairs will work to find common ground on same and similar positions within the bill. From there, negotiations will likely be kicked up to the leadership level, where the Governor, House Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader will have final say on the source and how much broadband funding will be included in the final spending package.

MN House passes Agriculture Omnibus with only $25 million for broadband

Minnesota house reports

Trying to address the lack of affordable housing, lack of broadband internet and to improve agriculture practices, the House passed a sweeping package of supplemental appropriations and policies late Monday.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko), HF4366as amended, serves as the omnibus agriculture, broadband and housing supplemental finance and policy bill. Passed 70-62, the bill heads to the Senate where its version, SF4019, is sponsored by Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake). A conference committee will likely be needed to work out bill differences.

The House bill would appropriate $25 million to the Office of Broadband Development for the Border-to-Border Broadband program. It would also increase the maximum amount for a project from $5 million to $10 million and increase the grant from 50% of the cost to 75%.

It’s nice to see funding go to broadband but it’s anticlimactic to have the House spend $25 million when they started with $100 million.