Gov Walz signs Ag Bill with $100 million for broadband

CBS News reports

More Minnesotans will soon have access to high-speed internet under a new bill signed into law Thursday by Gov. Tim Walz.

The bill provides $100 million to expand high-speed broadband access across the state as part of the state’s goal of ensuring access for all Minnesotans.

According to state data, more than 200,000 Minnesota households didn’t have access to wired broadband service with basic internet speeds last year. Most of the underserved areas are in rural communities.

The governor’s office said that the investment supplements federal funding allocated to Minnesota under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Also reported in:

It’s great news but a far cry from the $276 million in the Governor’s budget earlier in the session.

Fergus Falls Fiber Grant Project breaks ground

The Fergus Falls Daily Journal reports

Park Region’s fiber groundbreaking ceremony celebrated the launch of their 2023 Fergus Falls Area Fiber Grant Project.

To kick off the construction of this project, Park Region hosted the ceremony on May 11.

Key partners attended the event, including officials with the State of Minnesota, Otter Tail County and local townships. These collaborative efforts will be monumental for Park Region to expand broadband access in OTC.

More info on the project…

Park Region and partners in 2022 submitted a grant application totaling $8.4 million to expand broadband services around the Fergus Falls area. The infrastructure will span over 270 route miles of fiber and bring with it state-of-the-art technology with speeds up to one gigabits per second.

“This project is over $8 million, and I think it is really important to note that yes, the state has over $3 million invested in you all as a community and organization and partnerships have put in over $5 million,” said Bree Maki, Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development executive director. “I think that is really what this program really stands to help support that local knowledge and contribution and importance.”

The project is expected to take two years to complete. Once the new infrastructure is fully in place and operational it is expected to boost the region’s economic growth, along with online education, remote working, telehealth services and provide new opportunities for business growth to thrive.

Details on the $125 million(?) bill for broadband in MN

Added 2pm May 12: Always grateful to have friends who are smarter than I am!

the extra $25m is the second half of the state general funds ($50m) that they appropriated last year. when they passed the bill last year it appropriated money in the second fiscal year of last biennium (2023) and the first fiscal year of this biennium (2024).
since they are passing the FY2024-2025 budget this year, they have to put language in the new budget to re-appropriate that $25 million. in other words, it’s just a technicality. the money is already in the bank at OBD. $100m is the new funding.

I keep reading about the $100 million for broadband grants in the MN Legislature but looking at the details, it looks like $125 million for grants…

(a) $350,000 each year is for the Office of Broadband Development.

(b) $75,000,000 the first year and $50,000,000
the second year are for transfer to the border-to-border broadband fund account established in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396. Of the amount transferred each year,
$20,000,000 is for lower population density program grants under Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.3952. This is a onetime appropriation.

The grant maximum has been lifted to $10,000…

Minnesota Statutes 2022, section 116J.395, subdivision 7, is amended to read:

Subd. 7.


(a) No grant awarded under this section may fund more than 50 percent of the total cost of a project.

(b) Grants awarded to a single project under this section must not exceed $5,000,000 $10,000,000.

And there is room for 75 percent match in lower population density areas…

Sec. 4.


Subdivision 1.


A lower population density grant program is established
in the Department of Employment and Economic Development. The purpose of the lower
population density grant program is to provide broadband service to unserved and
underserved areas of the state where a 50 percent match formula is not adequate to make a
business case for the extension of broadband facilities.

Subd. 2.


Grants awarded under this section may fund up to 75 percent of the
total cost of a project and must otherwise adhere to section 116J.395, subdivisions 1 to 6
and subdivision 7, paragraph (b).

MN Broadband ag bill settled with $100 million for broadband

Brownfields Ag News reports

A conference committee has reached agreement on the ag budget with two weeks remaining in the Minnesota Legislative Session.

Speaking to Brownfield before an agreement was announced, House Agriculture Committee chair Samantha Vang said most of the differences between the House and Senate version boiled down to funding.

Broadband was part of the budget…

The reconciled ag budget will include additional funding for biofuels infrastructure, soil health, and broadband.

Ag Week confirms the amount…

The ag budget bill also includes money for emerging farmers and $100 million for broadband internet service.

The amount $100 million is more than a Minnesota Legislature has previously budgeted for broadband grants; but it is a far cry from the $276 million Governor Walz had in his budget.

MN Legislature is working out Agriculture and Broadband Budget

Brownfield News reports

A conference committee is working out differences in the Agriculture and Broadband Budget as the Minnesota Legislative Session hits the home stretch.

House Ag Committee Chair Samantha Vang tells Brownfield she and Senate Ag Chair Aric Putnam are aligned on much of the bill.

“The differences are just a matter of how much funding we put towards each of these issues, so I think those can be resolved very quickly and hopefully this week we get to see conference committee up for adoption.”

She calls the ag budget very robust.

Both House and Senate have budgeted $100 million for broadband; so this isn’t big news but nice to know it’s moving along.

Three providers are seeking Border to Border grants in Douglas County (MN)

The Echo Press reports

Now that area is in an enviable position. Three internet providers are vying for state funding to provide residents with high-speed, top-notch fiber optic internet service. It’s unusual for three providers to target the same area of Douglas County.

Gardonville, Arvig-Tekstar, and Spectrum-Charter have all applied for grants from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, which will dispense up to $67 million dollars in 2023, about triple what has been appropriated in previous years. The money is awarded through a program called the Border-to-Border grants. …

Each company has targeted an area with slightly different borders, but they all include the Emerald neighborhood as well as areas north along the Lake Carlos shore and along Highway 29. Only Perham-based Arvig includes the city of Carlos, while Gardonville, based in Brandon, would go further south, scooping in Laura Lake, the Nordic Hills Golf Course, the area adjacent to the Belle River State Wildlife Management Area and north to sections of Viking Trail and Fairfield Creek Road. Charter, headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, would serve two areas west and east of Carlos.

Douglas County could use some help…

Douglas County is lagging much of the state in reaching broadband goals, according to the Grand Rapids-based Blandin Foundation, which ranks Douglas County 58th of 87 counties for broadband access. It says that 5,532 households in Douglas County do not have access to internet speeds of 100 megabits per second download and 20 megabits per second upload, and says it will cost about $51.4 million to extend that level of broadband to the entire county.

The most recent census data says that 92.9% of Douglas County households has a computer, and that 83.6% have a broadband internet connection, but it doesn’t specify the broadband speeds.

They have had good luck in getting grants in the past.

Senator Putnam on Senate’s $100 million for broadband

The St Cloud Times posts an opinion piece from Senator Putnam…

I think some people were surprised when I was named Chair of the Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee in the Minnesota Senate.  You wouldn’t call our community agricultural as a whole, and I’m not a farmer.  So, I guess the surprise makes some sense.

Here’s what he said about broadband…

We are putting $100 million toward broadband and dedicating a chunk of that sum to hard to reach, underserved areas through the new “low-density” program.  It’s more expensive to extend broadband to the end of a road or in a very rural area, but folks who live there matter too.

We might know about the need for broadband, but there is a good chance we aren’t as aware of the stress and economic hardship caused when a grain elevator fails.

As I’ve said before, while $100 million is more than has been received in the past, it will not get broadband to everyone. Not even when the federal money starts seeping into the State.


MN House passes Ag Bill with $100 million for broadband

KFGO reports

Republicans say an agriculture budget bill, which normally enjoys broad bipartisan support, passed the Minnesota House on only a party-line vote Thursday.

They didn’t agree on everything but…

However, both parties are giving thumbs-up to a 100-million-dollar increase to expand broadband access in Greater Minnesota.

OPPORTUNITY: DEED encourages applications for broadband expansion program by April 30, 2023

I’ve written about this opportunity in the past but figured sharing a timely reminder from DEED would be helpful…

Ahead of an important April 30 deadline, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is encouraging Minnesotans to apply for its Line Extension Program to connect homes and businesses to high-speed broadband.

The DEED Office of Broadband Development’s Line Extension Program connects internet service providers to residents and businesses that lack high-speed broadband.

If applicants are in areas where high-speed broadband is available, DEED will help service providers contact applicants about connecting to the service. If no provider offers broadband at an applicant’s address, the Line Extension Program awards grants for providers who want to extend existing broadband infrastructure to the unserved locations, providing higher-speed internet to more people around the state.

Minnesota residents and businesses that lack access to broadband speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3Mbps upload can apply online through the Office of Broadband Development. They can also request a paper application by calling 651-259-7610 or emailing Minnesotans are encouraged to apply even if they do not know their existing Internet speeds.

“High-speed broadband helps families stay connected to work, school, and healthcare. It allows businesses big and small to reach more customers and grow” said Bree Maki, executive director of the Office of Broadband Development at DEED. “The Line Extension Program is one of the ways DEED is connecting more people to the broadband they need. We encourage Minnesotans who need faster connections to apply for this program.”

While DEED will accept applications throughout the year, the Office of Broadband Development will only review applications, contact applicants, and award extension grants every six months. The first review period begins on May 1, meaning Minnesotans hoping to participate most quickly should apply before then.

The Legislature created the Line Extension Program in 2022, allocating $15 million for broadband extension grants to further DEED’s mission to connect more Minnesotans to high-speed broadband. Minnesota’s 2026 goal is that all homes and businesses have access to broadband with download speeds of at least 100Mbps and upload speeds of at least 20 Mbps.

Line Extension is one of several programs DEED’s Office of Broadband Development administers to expand Minnesota’s broadband access.

Last year the agency announced the state’s largest-ever investment in broadband when it awarded $99.6 million in grants through the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program to 61 expansion projects around the state. The funding will connect more than 33,000 Minnesota homes and businesses in 48 counties to high speed broadband. Legislative leaders and Governor Walz have agreed to provide $100 million this session to fund future Border-to-Border grants.

“Programs like Line Extension show how Minnesota’s legislators, private sector, DEED, and the rest of the Walz-Flanagan Administration are working together to bring high-speed broadband to everyone in Minnesota,” said DEED Temporary Commissioner Kevin McKinnon. “We appreciate this ongoing partnership and look forward to helping more people access important high-speed broadband.”

MN Senate passes bill with $100M for broadband grants

KIMT3 News reports

Minnesota lawmakers in the State Senate passed the first massive spending bill of the session on a bipartisan vote of 58-7 on Thursday.

The Omnibus Agriculture, Broadband and Rural Development Bill costs around $145 million dollars and funds ag programs. research, food shelves, tax credits for farmers that are selling their property and broadband internet expansions in rural communities.

The latter would receive $100 million dollars to spread broadband to unserved and underserved areas across the state.

One of those programs includes the Lower Population Density Grant Program, which would help fund 75% of rural broadband costs in communities that need it.

Minnesota Republican Senators Westrom and Lang both noted that they were disappointed that bill didn’t invest more. In January 2023, Governor Walz recommended $276 million for broadband.


$100 million for MN Broadband is a start to reaching state goals – not a closer

Hutchinson Leader reports on the $100 million proposed funding in the Minnesota Legislature. Here’s how the math used indicates that even with that funding and optimistic estimates of federal funding, we’re going to need another  $426 million…

About 88% of households and businesses in the state had access to that level of broadband in October, according to estimates released in a report by the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband. In rural areas, about only 62% have what the state deems to be adequate broadband, an issue that became even more of a problem during the COVID-19 pandemic when many more people were forced to work at home and kids attended school online.

The gap in broadband coverage is because of money. Developers say some areas are too sparse, or the terrain is too difficult, to make building infrastructure worth the cost. That’s why the state and federal government subsidize construction of infrastructure — like digging routes to deploy fiber-optic cable — to entice internet providers into rural areas.

State officials estimate it would cost $2.76 billion to serve the 291,000 households and businesses that lack the infrastructure for fast service. It’s an eye-popping price tag, but most of the money would not come from the Minnesota Legislature.

State grants typically require a 50% match from broadband developers or others involved in the project, like city and county governments, meaning the state government is only responsible for half the cost.

The federal government has also pitched in a great deal to help Minnesota cover the remaining $1.38 billion of that $2.76 billion. The task force estimated Minnesota could get $968 million from the feds, most of it coming from the infrastructure bill that passed Congress in 2021.

That leaves a roughly $426 million price tag for Minnesota to reach its goals, an estimate that includes administrative costs and is based on a 50% match program. The price tag is still speculative, said Bree Maki, director of Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development at the Department of Employment and Economic Development. That’s because factors like construction costs can be a moving target.

Both MN House and Senate ag and finance omnibus bills include $100 million for broadband

The League of Minnesota Cities reports

Both House and Senate omnibus agriculture policy and finance bills include $100 million in additional one-time general fund spending over the next biennium for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program that assists with broadband infrastructure deployment in hard-to-reach areas.

The House bill, HF 2278 (Rep. Samantha Vang, DFL-Brooklyn Center) as amended by a delete-all amendment (pdf) and the Senate bill, SF 1955 (Aric Putnam, DFL-St. Cloud) as amended by a delete-all amendment (pdf), include identical language that fully funds the Office of Broadband Development, provides additional resources for the grant program, and makes permanent the Low-Density Broadband Development Grant Program that was introduced as a pilot program last session.

Specific provisions in the bill regarding broadband include:

  • An additional $100 million in one-time funding over the next biennium for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program.
    • Of the $100 million, $20 million is reserved each year of the biennium for the lower population density grant program.
  • Elimination of the pilot program for lower population density proposals and establishes in statute a permanent Lower-Density Broadband Development Grant Program that is eligible to fund awards up to 75% of the total project cost rather than 50% for normal border-to-border grants.

The League will continue to work with stakeholders, bill authors, and the conference committee to ensure this language remains in the final agreed upon agriculture omnibus bill.

MN Senate Omnibus bill passed through another committee with $100M for broadband

KNSI Radio reports

The Senate agriculture omnibus bill passed through another committee Wednesday with near unanimous bipartisan support.

The Senate Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee gave the green light for $100 million to help farmers in greater Minnesota with broadband access, soil health and livestock. …

Some highlights include:

  • $100 million to expand broadband access throughout the state.
  • $14 million for a grain indemnity fund to protect Minnesota farmers.
  • $2 million in soil health equipment grants to help farmers make their farmland more resilient to extreme weather events, retain topsoil, build organic matter, and promote water quality.
  • $1 million to support emerging farmers with farm down payment assistance.
  • $944,000 in investments to support livestock processing.
  • $1.2 million over four years to provide services for beginning and emerging farmers.

The bill now moves to the Senate Finance Committee.

Rep Pursell notes drop from $276M for broadband to $100M in MN House

KYMN Radio reports

The House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, of which Pursell is Vice Chair, has been given $48 million to work with. She noted that there will be $100 million for the expansion of broadband internet into rural areas that will be part of the Ag budget eventually, but right now it has its own budget line item.

As the chief author of the broadband bill, Pursell expressed some disappointment with the amount that has been allocated, but said it is important to make some sort of investment immediately to get things moving.

“My original bill was for $276 million dollars over two years. The targets came out to less than half of that amount, but it will still be the largest investment Minnesota will have ever made. We’ve been promised funds from the federal government, but because it’s unclear how long it might take to get those funds here, we’re taking action in our state now. We cannot afford to miss another construction season and so we’ll be getting Minnesotans who deserve to be connected to the internet [set up] this year with these funds.”

The omnibus bills will be heard in committees this week and then make their way to the House Floor.

Bree Maki explains MN weather impact on broadband deployment and how MN still moves forward

Fierce Telecom spoke with Bree Maki, director of Minnesota Office of Broadband and learned a lot about the challenges of building broadband in Minnesota – a four season state…

Bree Maki, director of Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development, shared with Fierce some key deployment challenges, including weather and workforce constraints. Weather is particularly a hurdle for building fiber in the ground, as Minnesota has a limited construction season, similar to states like Alaska.

“We have long winters, and we have to wait for the ground to defrost before we can do the construction season,” Maki said, noting there’s not much time between the start of construction and “when snow really starts flying in the fall and the temperatures drop.”

There’s a summary of funding in Minnesota…

Minnesota’s main state funding resource is the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, established in 2014. Thus far, the program has doled out $230 million to connect over 90,000 Minnesotans, said Maki.

For the 2023 grant round, the state plans to dish out up to $67 million later this spring. The state legislature has proposed $276 million in additional funding for the Border-to-Border program.

In terms of federal dollars, Minnesota is leveraging $30 million from the Capital Projects Fund (CPF) to support its Low-Density Pilot program, which Maki said is similar to the Border-to-Border program “but it allows for some additional cost share percentages, because we know that there is a higher cost at hardest-to-reach areas in the state.”

Another $15 million in CPF funding went towards the state’s Line Extension program.