Supplemental budget (including broadband grants) passes – but threatened with Gubernatorial veto

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Minnesota lawmakers adjourned late Sunday after finalizing a handful of tax and spending measures, but with little chance they’d have much to show for three months of work as Gov. Mark Dayton vowed to veto most of their major efforts.

The Session Daily provides more details…

Early Sunday morning, the House passed a massive omnibus supplemental spending package. Then, around 4 p.m. Sunday, the House, in a second attempt within a week, passed a tax conformity bill that included special education funding requested by Gov. Mark Dayton. With minutes remaining before the constitutional deadline, the House passed a $1.4 billion capital investment bill and sent it to the governor.

“We’re excited, obviously,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) told the media after adjourning the 2018 session sine die. “A very successful session, passing all the big bills we had promised and delivered for Minnesotans in all the ways we said we would.”

Dayton told the media he would veto the tax and supplemental budget bills.

“It’s been a debacle,” Dayton said a few hours earlier. “But it’s been a debacle of their creation.”

And Minnesota Public Radio reports…

The bills passed on the session’s final days include:

  • a measure to cut taxes and free up more classroom money for schools

  • a construction package that could lead to $1.5 billion in projects

  • a massive budget bill that would increase state contributions to broadband expansions, provide schools money to secure campuses, take steps to attack the opioid epidemic and more.

All are shared goals of the governor and the Legislature, but most of the bills come with provisions that Dayton sees as objectionable or fail to adequately address the problems facing the state. The main spending bill spans 990 pages and would parcel out more than $130 million of a projected budget surplus.

The tax bill authorizes $225 million in spending for schools meant to avert layoffs and program cuts in some districts, but Dayton called it “fake,” because only $50 million of it was new money, and the rest comes from existing allocations schools are allowed to use in new ways.

So it’s a matter of seeing what happens at this point.

Capitol Update from MN Library Association – still $15 million for broadband

It’s hard to see what’s happening at the Capitol these days things are flying around so fast, but here’s a legislative update from the MN Library Association – they mention the $15 million for broadband…

The Supplemental budget bill is the arena for several issues of interest to MLA-ITEM. Regional Library Telecommunications Aid (RLTA) has been a source of debate this session as the MDE proposed re-purposing potential unspent RLTA funds for school telecom needs. House Education Finance Chair Jennifer Loon sought to keep these funds within the sphere of the regional public library world and her position, which we asked for, has prevailed at this point in time. The Supplemental conference report includes language allowing the regional library systems to spend RLTA funds on other broadband access related initiatives that don’t necessarily align with the federal e-rate program.

The Supplemental budget bill also contains $15 million for the broadband development fund.

Broadband service spreading in rural Murray, Pipestone counties

The Globe reports on a process that Nobles, Murray and Pipestone Counties have used to move to better broadband in their areas…

The widespread utility of broadband has led several southwest Minnesota counties to invest their time and money into researching the topic, and make serious progress in the process.

In 2016, Nobles County conducted a broadband feasibility study with CCG and Slayton-based Finley Engineering. Shortly after, the state’s Border-to-Border grant program awarded Lismore Cooperative Telephone nearly $3 million to create a hybrid fiber and wireless network that will provide baseline broadband speeds to most of the county and ultra-fast fiber to hundreds of homes. The project is expected to be completed by mid-2018.

Last year, Murray County and Pipestone County partnered with four other southwest Minnesota counties and the Blandin Foundation to conduct feasibility studies — also done by Finley and CCG — in hopes of getting a similar outcome.

Pipestone County’s study was completed in February 2017, and later that year, Ruthton-based Woodstock Telephone received a $363,851 grant from the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband to provide fixed wireless broadband to rural Pipestone County.

Murray County is still working on access…

“The county does not plan to build a broadband network but is open to talking with providers who are interested in extending service to our citizens and may need financial assistance to do so,” Rucker said. “Murray County had the feasibility study completed so that any provider who wants to extend broadband service to our unserved and underserved areas could use the study as background to apply for state or federal grants to do so.”

The county has seen significant broadband investment from Woodstock since 2015, when it installed two wireless broadband towers around Lake Shetek. It continued over the last two years, installing eight internet coverage sites in the area, including towers in Lake Wilson, Slayton and Edgerton. The company plans to add another tower south of Chandler this year.

The towers, which are fed with fiber, provide 50Mbps download speeds at a range of six miles, according to Terry Nelson, Woodstock general manager. The speeds and service can vary, however, as wireless internet can be disrupted by geographical features such as hills, trees and windmills.

“We’ve done wireless in a lot of these areas, but there’s still little pockets that we can’t hit with some of our wireless,” Nelson said. “I would definitely never say the county is 100 percent covered, because it’s not.”

An October 2017 report from the state found 99.8 percent of Murray County households have access to 25/3 broadband — up from 50.47 percent in July 2016 — and more than 52.9 percent can access 100/20 — up from 41.56 percent. The numbers in Pipestone County are 97.87 and 79.73 percent — up from 79.36 and 44.54 percent, respectively — but Dawson said the numbers shouldn’t be relied on.

Counties recognize wireless as a means to meeting 2022 state goals, but at looking for fiber to reach 2026 goals…

Minnesota wants 25/3 speeds mandated statewide by 2022. By 2026, the required numbers will be raised to 100/20. Reaching those speeds consistently is nearly impossible with wireless internet, Dawson said.

“The wireless that we’re talking about is capable of that within a mile or so, but you would have to put a cell site at every farm — that’s not going to happen,” he said.

Instead, broadband experts agree the ultimate solution is delivering fiber-to-the-home, reliably delivering 1-gigabit (1000Mbps) speeds.

Lismore Telephone is installing fiber to every household in Leota and Wilmont and hundreds of homes along its 135-mile fiber ring, but it is expensive. In addition to $6 million between the state and Nobles County, the county had to throw in an addition $1 million in cash and $2.57 million in taxable general obligation tax abatement bonds to make it work.

That’s with fiber costing around $20,000 per mile, and the price won’t be coming down any time soon, Dawson said.

“You are already in a state where fiber is as cheap as it will possibly be,” Dawson said. “With 50-foot deep soil, they can get it in real easy. Minnesota can bury fiber for $20,000 a mile, where in a lot of parts of the country, that’s $50,000 a mile.”

For Woodstock, a successful fiber formula has been delivering directly to large businesses, where the return on investment makes it doable.

MN Broadband Task Force May 2018 meeting notes: Updates, Cyber Security, Education Superhighway and Blockchain

Today the Broadband Task Force got updates from the Office of Broadband Development and on the legislative activity. They discussed plans for the final report. They also heard from experts on cyber security at the State, the Education Superhighways (nice update on e-rate and impact on Minnesota Schools) and a presentation on bitcoin and blockchain.

Full notes: Continue reading

West Central promotes MN border to border state grants at the Capitol

The Wadena Pioneer Journal reports…

West Central Telephone’s President Bruce Kinnunen and General Manager/CEO Chad Bullock recently participated in legislative visits in St. Paul with the Minnesota Telecom Alliance for their annual Day on the Hill event. Kinnunen and Bullock visited with Senator Paul Utke, District 2, Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen, District 8 and Representative John Poston, District 9A while at the state capital.

There were 50 participants at Day on the Hill representing 25 telecoms including West Central Telephone. The Minnesota Telecom Alliance and the Minnesota Cable Communications Association held a Legislative Reception that was well attended. Attendees included 30 House members and 11 Senators.

The focus of this year’s Day on the Hill meeting was on the Border to Border Broadband grant program, and its successful efforts to continue broadband mapping and assisting with other state agencies to help reduce the time it takes to deploy broadband.

Conference Committee on Omnibus Supplemental Budget Bill (SF3656) meets today (Wed) bill includes broadband funding

Here’s the latest from the Ways and Means Committee on the bill that discusses funding for the broadband grants.

Conference Committee on SF3656 – Omnibus Supplemental Budget Bill Meeting Notice
Committee:  Conference Committee on SF3656 – Omnibus Supplemental Budget Bill
Wednesday, May 09, 2018
3:00 PM or the Call of the Chair
1200 Senate Building
Committee Chair:
Representative Jim Knoblach
Senator Julie Rosen
The House has the Gavel
Time Note:
The Conference Committee will meet at 3:00PM (or the Call of the Chair).
The Conference Committee will review bill language.

You can find documents online:

Additionally, as a reminder, documents pertaining to the various fiscal areas in the Senate File 3656 Conference Committee have been posted to the respective finance committee pages on the House website.  These documents include Revisor Side-by-Sides; Nonpartisan Side-by-Side Bill Summary, and Fiscal Tracking Spreadsheets.
There is also a link at the Revisor’s Page here:

I started to pull out parts related to broadband last night – assuming there have been no changes since 9 pm or so here’s latest version from SF3656Continue reading

Nobles County: an inside look at a broadband feasibility study

Telecompetitor recently posted a profile of Nobles County and their journey toward better broadband…

To fix this situation, Nobles County set out on a public-private partnership journey, that would eventually involve the state of Minnesota, the Blandin Foundation, Finley Engineering, and Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company. Finley Engineering was honored to be selected by Nobles County to support this effort and help bring quality broadband to their community. The end result aims to eventually provide a state-of-the-art fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network that will bring ultrabroadband service to the citizens, farms, and businesses that dot Nobles County. This Minnesota community is well on their way in achieving this vision.

So they set out to learn more with a feasibility study…

The Blandin Foundation, a Minnesota-based private foundation, advocates for strong rural communities and provides funding to help meet that mission. Nobles County applied for and won grant funding from Blandin to perform a rural broadband feasibility study for their community. The Blandin Foundation provided one-half of the cost of the feasibility study, with Nobles County providing the rest in matching funds. Nobles County turned to Finley Engineering to begin that process and with their partners, Finley performed a study to determine how to bring broadband to this community in need. The result of that study identified a feasible plan to build a fiber ring throughout the county and begin bringing broadband to unserved and underserved communities through a hybrid FTTP and fixed wireless access network. Results of this study were presented to potential providers, including Lismore Cooperative Telephone, who partnered with Nobles County to fund, construct, and operate the hybrid fiber and fixed wireless network. Besides performing the feasibility study, Finley Engineering was selected to complete a State of MN broadband grant application, and engineer and oversee construction of the network.

That helped to set them up for a broadband grant…

The state provided $2.9 million in matching grant funding to contribute to the construction of the fiber portions of the network. Nobles County contributed a $1 million grant and a $2.5 million loan to the cause and Lismore committed to also invest in the construction of the network. The total budget for the project was about $6.5 million. The goal includes building the fiber ring and laterals to tower sites, providing a hybrid fiber and fixed wireless access initially, but eventually providing FTTP service, funded in part from the fixed wireless service revenues.

What did they learn?

All stakeholders in the project report are pleased with the progress so far. There are some key lessons learned from this evolving project. They include:

  • Initial feasibility studies are crucial, and Nobles County cited working with professional fi rms like Finley Engineering and their partners as an important critical step.
  • There are many partners and stakeholders involved in a project like this and open and transparent communication throughout all steps is vital to success noted Nobles County officials.
  • Involving the community early on played an important role in success factors. Nobles County enlisted local community members to participate in the early studies, surveying community members about the need for broadband.
  • Fixed wireless access technology has vastly improved and it is now a very viable technology to bring quality broadband to unserved and underserved rural communities.
  • Grant money and other support funding mechanisms are required to bring quality broadband to very rural communities.