Office of Broadband Development to Host Informational Webinars for 2019 Broadband Grant Application Process

Sharing an invitation from the Office of Broadband Development…

On July 24 and July 25, the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development will host a series of three webinar/WebEx toll-free calls to support the 2019 broadband grant application process and to answer potential applicant questions. We will introduce this year’s changes to the program, walk through the application requirements, review the scoring criteria, and answer questions. Please join us on any one of the following scheduled webinar sessions:

• Wednesday, July 24, at 1 to 3 p.m.
• Thursday, July 25, at 9 to 11 a.m.
• Thursday, July 25, at 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

To register, please send an email with your contact information (your name, organization, address, email and telephone number to david.j.thao@state.mn.us, also copying DEED.broadband@state.mn.us.

Please indicate which session you plan to attend. You must register to receive further instructions on how to access the meeting and the associated materials. The information presented on each call will be the same, so you only need to select one session in order to participate fully.

If you have questions about registration, you may also call David Thao at 651-259-7442. If you have specific questions about the grant program, please contact Cathy Clucas at cathy.clucas@state.mn.us or 651-259-7635.

As always, any general questions can be directed to our DEED e-mailbox at DEED.broadband@state.mn.us, or our Staff at 651-259-7610.

Good luck!

Rep Lueck urges folks around Aitkin to seek Border to Border broadband grants

Brainerd Dispatch reports…

Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, on Friday encouraged qualified organizations to apply for Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant funding designed to expand internet access in unserved and underserved areas of rural Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Office of Broadband Development will accept grant proposals until 4 p.m. Sept. 13. The Legislature provided $20 million during the 2019 session for this round of grant funding.

It’s good advice.

Rural Minnesota Cooperatives Partner to Connect Aitkin County

The Institute for Local Self Reliance recently highlighted the FTTH project in Aitkin County

The lakes and forests of Aitkin County in northern Minnesota make it an ideal location for a vacation home, but poor connectivity has historically limited days spent at the cabin to weekends and holidays. However, a new partnership between Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) and Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC) is making it possible for families to extend their trips up north by connecting lakeside cabins with high-speed Internet access.

The two co-ops are working together to build a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, XStream Fiber, that will bring fast, reliable broadband access to homes and businesses in MLEC’s service territory. MLEC hopes that the improved connectivity will benefit the local economy by encouraging seasonal residents, who make up more than 40 percent of the cooperative’s membership, to stay in the region for longer.

It’s a tale of collaboration with the cooperatives working together spurred by a network created with support from a Minnesota broadband grant…

CTC’s role in the partnership is to provide network connectivity, Internet backhaul, and backend support while MLEC manages billing, marketing, and other subscriber services. The cooperatives coordinate technical support calls, with MLEC handling basic issues itself and pushing higher level problems to CTC. The electric co-op owns all of the fiber infrastructure within its service territory.

The Xstream fiber might not have made it into the ground the $1.76 million Minnesota Border to Border Broadband grant that MLEC received in 2016.

The story of Minnesota’s state broadband funds past, present and future from Matt Schmit

Recently, the Daily Yonder posted an article by (former Senator) Matt Schmit on Minnesota’s Border to Border Broadband grants, specifically the history of the legislation (which he authored) that made it happen in 2014…

The first bill, which created the grant fund, focused on improving service in unserved areas while not ignoring the underserved; achieving technology neutrality while requiring scalability of all state-funded deployments to 100 Mbps /100 Mbps speeds; and encouraging meaningful partnerships among various entities, such as local communities, tribal governments, incumbent and competitive providers, and rural cooperatives.

He mentions the obstacles…

At each turn, we overcame these obstacles, but not without consequence. Concerns over statewide prevailing wage mandates on public funding in rural markets led to a bipartisan exemption in state law, a tweak to the program that has worked well and enhanced program purchasing power. A desire to improve service in underserved areas inspired a small carve-out for targeted investment but to date has produced scant proposals. An infusion of new federal CAF dollars and an interest, however idealistic, in coordinating scarce public resources and leveraging federal funding to maximum benefit led to a challenge process that has failed to push incumbent CAF recipients to provide more competitive service.

And remembers a plan that didn’t work…

As beneficial as Minnesota’s Border to Border program has been, I remain convinced that my other bill was the better bill – and far more likely to inspire greater impact. The bill’s overarching goal was to facilitate local and regional cross-sector collaboration and partnership by introducing new public financing tools to the rural broadband conversation. After all, if lack of private investment capital for scarcely populated service territories remains the fundamental challenge underlying broadband service gaps, this bill sought to address the problem head on.

Intended to provide new tools for local and regional solutions, the legislation clarified and enhanced local bonding authority, enabled creation of regional broadband districts to strengthen cooperatives and public-private partnerships with new taxing authority, and provided a critical source of non-state match funding for state grant program applicants.

Dramatically mischaracterized by one industry lobbyist as the “most radical legislation ever introduced in Minnesota,” the bill never even received a hearing.

And makes some recommendations going forward…

At the same time, the broadband grant program would benefit from a few upgrades. First, multiyear base funding, preferably through a dedicated source that limits its exposure to general fund competition, would provide more stability to the program. Second, a reconsidered incumbent challenge process would help achieve the intended purpose of pushing CAF recipients to invest in better technology and offer faster speeds. Third, new tools and clear authority for local and regional entities to raise non-state funds to match a state grant or forego state funding altogether would improve rural broadband providers’ access to capital.

Office of Broadband Development Program Call for Border to Border Broadband Grant Applications

I wish I had a drum roll. Good luck to everyone!

The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) unit is soliciting applications for the Border to Border Broadband grant funding of broadband projects.

Submission Deadlines and Requirements

The deadline for the applications is 4 p.m., on Friday, September 13.

Application proposals must be mailed or delivered to:
Office of Broadband Development MN Department of Employment and Economic Development
First National Bank Building
332 Minnesota Street – Suite E200
St. Paul, MN 55101-1351

Application submittals must include three full sets of paper copies, and one additional electronic set in Microsoft Word format on a USB drive. They must be received by the deadline to be considered for funding.

Contact Information

For questions regarding this application process, please contact OBD Staff at 651-259-7610 or deed.broadband@state.mn.us

Senator Anderson reports on $40 million for MN broadband grants

Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus reports an update from Senator Anderson…

Rural communities need fast and efficient access to online education, resources, and other important services. We invested $40 million to expand rural broadband this year to continue the effort to provide rural areas the same opportunities as those in more metro areas. You can visit the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition’s website for more details on the expansion: http://mnbroadbandcoalition.com/

We already have more ideas for next session and we always have our farmers in mind while we are working at the Capitol. We rely on them and we are thankful for all the work they do for our state. Please reach out with any additional questions or concerns.

Next week, we will look at the highlights in the Commerce, Jobs, and Energy budget. I hope you enjoy your weekend!

Kandiyohi County moves forward with broadband engineering study

West Central Tribune reports…

Kandiyohi County is taking fresh aim at a long-sought goal of widening the availability of high-speed internet service, especially to neighborhoods that remain unserved or underserved.

The County Board voted Tuesday to help fund an engineering study that will examine the feasibility of bringing broadband to rural homes and businesses in Dovre, Mamre and St. Johns townships.

The ultimate goal is another shot at grant dollars from the border-to-border program of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The article also give a little history…

The county and the Economic Development Commission had high hopes two years ago when the state Office of Broadband Technology awarded a $4.9 million grant to help develop broadband in rural northern Kandiyohi County. But the project struggled to reach fruition and was abandoned in the summer of 2017 after the county’s broadband partner, Consolidated Telecommunications Co., withdrew its participation, forcing the county to forfeit the grant money.

“It was so close and it didn’t happen,” said Larry Kleindl, county administrator.

It was a setback but advocates for local broadband never gave up, he said. “We agreed we weren’t going to quit. … We’re trying to find the tool and the mechanism to do this.”

What’s different this time is that the proposed project has multiple partners — the three townships, Kandiyohi County and telecommunications provider Arvig — willing to take the lead. The proposed service area is also more geographically compact.