Broadband still on table at MN Leg but some differences in Senate and House

Duluth News Tribune reports on the MN House…

The House of Representatives has teed up a $208 million package last week with funding for housing assistance for those struggling to make rent or mortgage payments due to the pandemic, small business loans, broadband expansion and a pay raise for personal care attendants.

And the Senate…

The Senate has also taken up and advanced measures aimed at boosting funding for housing assistance and expanding broadband for telehealth and distance learning, but those measures have different price tags and details that would require negotiations to even out differences.

It’s good to be on the table but as the Tribune points out there are some differences.

Mayo Clinic get $1 million for telehealth from FCC COVID-19 fund

HIT Consultant reports…

The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau approved an additional 13 funding applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, totaling $4.2M in funding.  The third set of providers will support some of the hardest-hit areas like California and Maryland to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program has funded 11 health care providers in 16 states for a total of $13.7M in funding.

That includes…

Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, was awarded $1,000,000 to implement video telehealth services and remote patient monitoring across its Midwest presence of over 50 communities in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, to minimize exposure and slow further spread of the COVID-19 virus while maintaining patient care and monitoring standards.

Minnesota Media talking up the need for better broadband

You know broadband is getting traction when you see it discussed on statewide television shows. WCCO-TV (CBSMinnesota) focuses on the need for better broadband for students trying to do distance learning…

The state estimates that 16% of Minnesotan’s do not have access to internet with speeds of at least 25 megabits per second. That is what you need to be able to participate in a teleconference.

But the state acknowledges even more Minnesotan’s have internet access that is not fast enough to download and play videos — it’s an issue that has been around since the internet has existed.  The COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted this issue of internet haves and have nots. …

But as the pandemic continues with no clear end in sight, the issue of equal internet access will almost certainly gain more urgency.

Fox9 covers the broadband bill discussed in the House yesterday…

“COVID-19 has shown the need for broadband now more than ever,” said state Representative Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls).

Rep. Ecklund has introduced a bill creating the Distance Learning Broadband Access Grant Program. It provides $8 million in grant money to reimburse schools for providing wireless or wired service to students through the end of the school year. It also includes $2 million in grants to medical facilities for telemedicine hookups and an additional $10 million for the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Fund.

The Department of Employment and Economic Development says the extra money to the broadband fund alone could hookup about 3,600 locations.

“A $10 million state investment could bring connectivity to approximately 2 percent of the estimated 163,000 households that lack a 25-by-3 service today,” said Angela Dickison, the DEED broadband development manager.

Local Broadband Finance Options: Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar archive

Thanks to the presenters and attendees for joining the latest Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar:Local Broadband Finance Options. Here we have the description, video archive, slides and chat transcript (get handouts)…

Learn how local units of government – townships, cities and counties – can support broadband deployment projects with local tax dollars.  There is often a gap between the established community vision and the business case to support the required investment.  DEED’s broadband grant program incents the contribution of local tax dollars as it reviews projects and favors those applications that provide local match.

Rebecca Kurtz of Ehlers, a municipal advisory firm, will provide an overview of the local authority and process requirements to provide financing support – bonding, revolving loan fund and other tools.

Brent Olson, Big Stone County Commissioner, will share his county’s story of financing partnership with Acira, a rural broadband cooperative.  Through strong local upfront support and the use of long-term bonding, the county has achieved 100% fiber connectivity in its rural area.  Commissioner Olson said that this is the most important initiative that the county has undertaken in his time on the board.

Vince Robinson, economic developer for Lincoln County, will describe the incredible investment that Lincoln County is making to assist ITC, a broadband cooperative operating in South Dakota and Minnesota, expand their fiber optic service countywide.  The county board views broadband as an essential infrastructure necessary for modern life.

Andrea Nekowitsch, clerk for Chisago County’s Fish Lake Township, will describe the county’s financial partnership with CenturyLink to bring a fiber to the home network throughout the township.  Andrea will talk about the strong support of residents for this project even as it called for raising the local tax levy to support the project.

Ehler’s PPTs

Online Chat:

EVENT April 27: MN House to meet to discuss SF4494 COVID19 broadband/tech related legislation

Happening tomorrow (April 27) at 12:45…

Monday, April 27, 2020 , 12:45 PM

Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division

Chair: Rep. Gene Pelowski
Location: Remote Hearing
Agenda:

This Remote Hearing is taking place pursuant to Rule 0.01, which you may view here: https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/cco/rules/permrule/1001.htm

HF 3029 (Ecklund) Broadband development grant rogram annual statutory appropriation provided, and money appropriated Chair Pelowski intends to offer the attached DE 1 amendment to HF 3029
This remote hearing may be viewed live via the following methods:
1) Live stream via House website: https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/live/2
2) YouTube: https://youtu.be/S4StGoFeqig
Members of the public with questions about this process or who are interested in testifying at this meeting may email Owen Wirth at Owen.Wirth@House.mn. Public testimony will be accepted, please contact committee staff at least one hour prior to the start of the remote hearing and they will provide instructions.
The MN House of Representatives is currently working on establishing the processes and technology that allow remote hearings to be held that are accessible to the public. We expect many refinements to come over the coming weeks. Thank you for your patience as we adapt.

Bills Added

HF3029(Ecklund)
Broadband development grant program annual statutory appropriation provided, and money appropriated.

EVENT April 29: MN Senate to meet to discuss SF4494 COVID19 broadband/tech related legislation

MN Senate committee will meet to discuss SF4494 COVID19 broadband/tech related legislation on Wednesday, April 29 at 8:30a. SF4494 (COVID-19 telemedicine equipment grant program establishment; distance learning broadband access grant program establishment; appropriations) Was introduced on April 20 and referred to Finance. Finance will discuss it on April 29 at 8:30.

Here is the short take on the funding involved:

  • $8 million for a technology reimbursement grant program for schools
  • $2 million for telemedicine equipment reimbursement program
  • $10 million to the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program (added to existing $20 million for this year and with some added restrictions)

Here is the test of the bill:

A bill for an act
relating to telecommunications; establishing a grant program for distance learning
equipment; establishing a grant program for telemedicine equipment purchased
to deal with COVID-19; requiring reports; appropriating money.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

Section 1. DISTANCE LEARNING BROADBAND ACCESS GRANT PROGRAM.

Subdivision 1.

Definition.

For the purposes of this section, “commissioner” means the
commissioner of education.

Subd. 2.

Establishment.

A distance learning broadband access grant program is
established in the Department of Education to provide temporary wireless or wire-line
broadband access to students currently lacking Internet access so that the students may
participate in distance learning offered by school districts and charter schools during the
peacetime public health emergency period that relates to the infectious disease known as
COVID-19.

Subd. 3.

Eligible expenditures.

A grant awarded under this section may be used to:

(1) provide a student with a data card, USB modem, or other mobile or temporary
broadband device that enables the student to access learning materials available on the
Internet through a mobile or temporary wireless or wire-line broadband connection;

(2) reimburse a school district or charter school for actual costs incurred to provide
emergency distance learning wireless or wire-line broadband access during the 2019-2020
school year; and

(3) reimburse a school district or charter school for the cost of wireless or wire-line
broadband Internet access for households with students that did not otherwise have Internet
access before March 13, 2020, for the 2019-2020 school year.

Subd. 4.

Eligible applicants.

A Minnesota school district or charter school may apply
for a grant award under this section.

Subd. 5.

Application review.

(a) An applicant for a grant under this section must file
an application with the commissioner on a form developed by the commissioner. The
commissioner may consult with the commissioner of employment and economic development
when developing the form.

(b) An application for a grant under this subdivision must describe a school district’s or
charter school’s approach to identify and prioritize access for students unable to access the
Internet for distance learning and may include a description of local or private matching
grants or in-kind contributions.

(c) A school district or charter school may develop its application in cooperation with
the school district’s or charter school’s community education department, the school district’s
or charter school’s adult basic education program provider, a public library, an Internet
service provider, or other community partner.

(d) The commissioner must award grants under this section on a first-come, first-served
basis.

(e) The commissioner must develop administrative procedures governing the application
and grant award process.

Subd. 6.

Grant amount.

The commissioner must establish a maximum per-pupil amount
for grants awarded under this section based on (1) the number of districts and charter schools
that apply for a grant, and (2) the availability of federal money for a similar purpose.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Sec. 2. TELEMEDICINE EQUIPMENT REIMBURSEMENT GRANT PROGRAM.

Subdivision 1.

Definitions.

(a) For the purposes of this section, the following terms have
the meanings given.

(b) “Commissioner” means the commissioner of employment and economic development.

(c) “Licensed health care provider” has the meaning given in Minnesota Statutes, section
256B.0625, subdivision 3b, paragraph (e).

(d) “Telemedicine” has the meaning given in Minnesota Statutes, section 62A.671,
subdivision 9.

(e) “Telemedicine equipment” means multimedia communications equipment and
software that facilitates the delivery of telemedicine by a licensed health care provider.

Subd. 2.

Establishment.

A grant program is established in the Department of
Employment and Economic Development to award grants to reimburse licensed health care
providers that purchase and install telemedicine equipment in order to provide
COVID-19-related health care services to Minnesotans.

Subd. 3.

Eligible applicants.

A licensed health care provider is eligible to receive a
grant under this section.

Subd. 4.

Eligible expenditures.

A grant may be made under this section to reimburse
the cost incurred by a licensed health care provider to purchase and install telemedicine
equipment that enables the licensed health care provider to diagnose and evaluate patients
with respect to the infectious disease known as COVID-19.

Subd. 5.

Application; review.

(a) An applicant for a grant under this section must file
an application with the commissioner on a form developed by the commissioner. The
commissioner may consult with the commissioners of commerce, human services, and
health when developing the form.

(b) The commissioner must award grants under this section on a first-come, first-served
basis.

(c) The commissioner must develop administrative procedures governing the application
and grant award process.

(d) When awarding grants, the commissioner must consult with the commissioner of
health to determine areas of the state with the greatest need for telemedicine equipment.

Subd. 6.

Limitation

The commissioner may establish a maximum amount for a grant
awarded under this section based on the number of applications received and the total
reimbursement amount requested.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Sec. 3. APPROPRIATION.

(a) $8,000,000 in fiscal year 2020 is appropriated from the general fund to the
commissioner of employment and economic development for transfer to the commissioner
of education for emergency distance learning wireless or wire-line broadband access for
student grants for school districts and charter schools under section 1. Up to five percent of
the appropriation under this paragraph may be used to reimburse reasonable costs incurred
by the Department of Education to administer section 1. This is a onetime appropriation.
Any funds that remain unexpended on September 30, 2020, are transferred to the
border-to-border broadband fund account established in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396.
By December 1, 2020, the commissioner of education must report to the legislature regarding
the number of districts and charter schools that received grants under section 1 and the
number of students that were provided Internet access. The report must also identify the
costs to administer the grant program and the amount transferred to the border-to-border
broadband fund.

(b) $2,000,000 in fiscal year 2020 is appropriated from the general fund to the
commissioner of employment and economic development to award grants for the purchase
of telemedicine equipment under section 2. Up to five percent of the appropriation under
this paragraph may be used to reimburse the reasonable costs incurred by the Department
of Employment and Economic Development to administer section 2. This is a onetime
appropriation. Any funds that remain unexpended on September 30, 2020, are transferred
to the border-to-border broadband fund account established in Minnesota Statutes, section
116J.396. By December 31, 2020, the commissioner of employment and economic
development must report to the legislature regarding the number of applications received
under section 2, the number of grants awarded, the maximum and minimum grant amounts
awarded, and the mean and median grant amounts awarded. The report must also identify
the costs to administer the grant program and the amount transferred to the border-to-border
broadband fund.

(c) $10,000,000 in fiscal year 2021 is appropriated from the general fund to the
commissioner of employment and economic development for deposit in the border-to-border
broadband fund account established in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396. Before July
1, 2021, the appropriation must be used only to provide broadband service in unserved
areas, except that broadband infrastructure, as defined in Minnesota Statutes, section
116J.394, for that purpose may be placed in underserved areas. Beginning July 1, 2021, the
appropriation may be used for grants and the purposes described in Minnesota Statutes,
section 116J.395. Notwithstanding the limitation in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.395,
subdivision 7, paragraph (a), the grants are available for 55 percent of total project cost if
the grant is matched by ten percent or more from a nonstate entity. The nonstate entity
providing the match may include but is not limited to organized townships, cities, counties,
foundations, nonprofits, school districts, or higher education institutions. This is a onetime
appropriation.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

IMLS Announces New Stimulus Funding for Communities Across America- MN gets $500,000

NDIA announces  $30 million distributed for to expand digital network access, purchase internet accessible devices, and provide technical support services to citizens to address digital inclusion efforts and related technical support. Minnesota is slated to get $509,589. Here are the details…

The Institute of Museum and Library Services today announced measures to award the first $30 million of $50 million appropriated to the agency in the CARES Act.

The $30 million in the funding phase announced today will be distributed to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. territories, and the Freely Associated States based on population. The agency is allocating these grants through its most significant in-place funding vehicle for all states and territories, State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAAs), who are encouraged to use all available mechanisms to reach museum and tribal partners, as well as traditionally eligible libraries.

These funds are in addition to previously announced measures to support the urgent needs of museums, libraries, their staff, and the communities they serve. On April 6, IMLS authorized new flexibilities for its nearly 1,300 open awards in response to the impact of COVID-19.

“Together, we must address this challenge in the places most affected by coronavirus,” said IMLS Director Crosby Kemper. “This pandemic has highlighted the fact that people in rural and tribal communities, as well as those in high-poverty areas or remote regions lacking access to broadband, have been disproportionately affected. We must target these funds to provide job, health, economic, and other high-impact relief, and this funding round focuses on providing efficient, urgent help to citizens across the nation.”

States and territories will be able to use the funds to expand digital network access, purchase internet accessible devices, and provide technical support services to citizens to address digital inclusion efforts and related technical support, using the following types of data to prioritize efforts:

  • Poverty/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP);
  • Unemployment; and
  • Broadband availability.

“The urgent expansion of broadband access and digital services enables people to connect to the health, community, government, and job information so critical today, and to the other programs and services that play an enhanced role in the current health emergency,” said Kemper. “While we are distributing these funds through State Library Administrative Agencies, we urge museums and related organizations to partner with libraries in this vital endeavor.”

The state allotment tables can be viewed here; IMLS will provide additional details and anticipated timelines of this funding availability directly to SLAAs. The agency also plans to announce additional measures to aid museums and libraries, both through its current funding and that received through the CARES Act.

More information is available at imls.gov/coronavirus. For the latest information, subscribe to IMLS news updates.