MinnPost looks at Legislature’s impact on rural areas.

MinnPost looks at Legislature’s impact on rural areas. Here’s what they said about broadband…

Minnesota legislators this year tried to address many of the issues facing Greater Minnesota, from farming pollution to broadband access, meat processing capacity and lack of child care. Here’s a look at some of the policy and spending proposals with outsized impact outside of the seven-county Twin Cities metro area that did — or didn’t — get through the majority-Democrat House and the Republican-led Senate this year.

Broadband grant program

State broadband officials recommended $120 million in new spending on high-speed internet infrastructure in Minnesota over the next two years. Lawmakers eventually voted for $70 million, which is still the largest one-time infusion of cash into Minnesota’s grant program. The $70 million was paid for by the federal stimulus plan approved by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year. It’s still not enough money to completely close Minnesota’s longstanding disparities in internet access.

They don’t do into greater detail but the fact that it isn’t state money is a flag because it means that federal rules may apply, which means lower speed goals and other factors. Also it puts broadband off a budget line item in a way and I never think that’s such a good thing. On the other hand, it’s nice to use federal funds where we can.

Senator Carrie Rudd mentions broadband funding as a highlight

The Pines and Lakes Echo offered Senator Carrie Rudd an opportunity to recap the 2021 Legislative session…

This was a long legislative year – under the trying circumstances Minnesota has faced, we were able to accomplish a great deal, and the highlights are a small part of the story. Most importantly, we reaffirmed our commitment to all Minnesotans, and ensuring the best quality of life our state offers.

With notes on broadband funding…

The pandemic made it very clear that broadband is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, and we have work to do in that area. Therefore, included in the agriculture budget was important funding for broadband expansion.

Last year we provided a large investment for expansion efforts to our rural communities, and we again this year invested in broadband expansion thanks to federal funding from the American Recovery Plan. This continuous investment shows our commitment to ensuring Greater Minnesota is no longer left behind in broadband expansion.

Rep Pelowski outlines role of Industrial Education and Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee and broadband

In the Crookston Times, Rep Pelowski talks about the role of the new Industrial Education and Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee…

Despite being a new committee in the Minnesota House, the Industrial Education and Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee navigated the unfamiliar waters of pandemic legislating successfully, delivering on the primary goals built around the committee’s inception – funding an industrial technology teacher licensure and certification program, investing in statewide broadband, and replenishing the state’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account. As chair of the committee, I worked in a bipartisan manner with my colleagues to ensure these nonpartisan measures received the support they deserve.

And how they handled broadband funding this year…

In a similar fashion, our committee’s work on broadband would also get wrapped in a larger bill during the special session. As chair, I was appointed to the Agriculture conference committee, which also included broadband in its purview. Made of House and Senate members, the conference committee – later referred to as a working group after the regular session – crafted legislation that would fund operations for the Office of Broadband Development. In addition to this, $70 million in federal funding over the next two years in broadband infrastructure was included in the Jobs, Economic Development, and Labor Budget.

Minnesota Farmers Union calls $70 million for broadband one of the most important pieces of legislation

WNAX Radio reports…

Several priorities for Minnesota Farmers Union members were contained in legislation passed by State Lawmakers this session. MFU Government Relations Director Stu Lourey says getting biofuels infrastructure approved along with funding for expanding smaller meatpacking facilities and reauthorizing the Farmer Lender Mediation program were all legislative wins.

He says one of the most important pieces of legislation that passed was for $70 million dollars for broadband internet that has become essential for farmers, ranchers and businesses.

Legislators Bakk and Ecklund talk about MN broadband funding

The Timber Jay asked Senator Bakk and Representation Ecklund to talk about the 2021 Legislative highlights. Broadband was on the list…

Securing $70 million for the state’s Border-to-Border high-speed broadband initiative was also near the top of their lists of accomplishments.
“I’ve been the chief author of the broadband legislation for the last four years, and that’s a huge win for the state of Minnesota,” Ecklund said. “You compile that with all of the federal money that will be coming in and we might finally get to the point where we can say Minnesota is true border-to-border broadband, but right now 257,000 households are unserved.”
“That’s the biggest (allocation) we’ve ever made, $35 million a year,” Bakk said.

Office of Broadband Development on $70 Million to Border to Border Broadband Grant Program

The Office of Broadband Development outlines some of the details of the $70 million the legislature recently approved for broadband…

The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program funds the expansion of broadband service to areas of Minnesota that are unserved or underserved. The grant program was created in Minn. Stat. 116J.395 in 2014. The legislative focus of this grant program is to provide state resources that help make the financial case for new and existing providers to invest in building broadband infrastructure into unserved and underserved areas of the state.

The Border to Border Broadband Grant Program has historically been funded with state general fund revenues. State funding enabled OBD to open the grant application period within 30 days of the appropriation being authorized.  In the 2021 Special Session, the legislature has directed DEED to submit an application to the U.S. Department of the Treasury for $70 million of Minnesota’s capital projects fund allocation under Public Law 117-2 (the American Recovery Plan Act) to fund the Border to Border Broadband Grant Program over the next two fiscal years. The preliminary guidance from Treasury, as well as the legislative appropriation language, indicates that there will be a state application required to be submitted to Treasury for the state to access this funding. There will also be federal standards regarding how the funding can be used which are not yet known. Once Treasury has issued further guidance and clarified the application process, OBD will be able to provide more information regarding the FY22 Border to Border Broadband Grant Program’s anticipated timeline, application, and requirements.

OBD intends to follow state law guidelines for the Border to Border Broadband Grant Program, while building in any measures necessary to comply with federal requirements associated with use of the capital projects fund for the FY22 grant round. If you are not familiar with the state grant program, you may want to review the information on the OBD website at Broadband Grant Program / Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (mn.gov) until further information is available.

Please continue to visit the Office of Broadband Development website to stay up to date on the Border to Border Broadband Infrastructure grant program.

OBD has also prepared a Grant Application Template for communities to use as a resource if they are considering using Local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act for broadband infrastructure.

Minnesota Legislature Makes Largest Broadband Investment to Date

From the MN Broadband Coalition

The Minnesota Legislature passed $70 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program today and sent the bill on to Governor Tim Walz for his signature. The Omnibus Jobs and Economic Development Bill passed the House 71-62 and the Senate 51-15. The funding will be evenly divided over the next two years.
“The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition’s top priority this year was to fund the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. We are incredibly pleased with today’s news,” said Jay Trusty, Chair of the MN Rural Broadband Coalition. “This is the single largest investment by the Legislature in the program’s history, and it’s desperately needed. Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans lack access to even the most basic broadband service. We’re so thankful to Rep. Rob Ecklund, Sen. Tom Bakk, Rep. Gene Pelowski, Sen. Torrey Westrom, and Gov. Tim Walz for their leadership on this issue.”
The funding will come from the American Rescue Plan Act’s Capital Projects Fund. The Office of Broadband Development at DEED must apply to receive the funds from the federal government. Full guidance on the program requirements and application process is forthcoming from the U.S. Treasury.
The coronavirus pandemic showed us what rural Minnesotans have long known to be true: everyone needs access to reliable, high-speed broadband internet. Continued funding of the Border-to-Border program means we will come closer to achieving the state’s statutory speed goal of 100mbps download by 20mbps upload by 2026.

MRBC Update: House Passes Broadband Funding

An update from the MN Broadband Coalition…

House Passes Broadband Funding
The Minnesota House of Representatives passed $70 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program as part of its omnibus Jobs and Economic Development bill, SF 9. The bill passed the chamber 71-61. This bill is nearly identical to the version passed by the Senate that we updated you on earlier this week. The broadband provisions are identical and contain no policy changes.
However, differences remain between the two bills. The Senate removed a provision related to contractors working in oil refineries and sent the bill to the House. The House added the provision back in sent it to the Senate. It appears that the bill will head to a conference committee to resolve this issue. Nearly all the bill’s contents were negotiated by the House, Senate, and Governor’s administration negotiators, but the refinery provisions are a late-game wrinkle that weren’t agreed to as part of the end-of-session deal.
It remains to be seen how the Senate and House will work out their differences on this bill. The Legislature must complete its work by June 30, or the state government will begin to shut down. As always, we will give you further updates as we receive more information!

MRBC Update: Senate Tucks Broadband Funding into Jobs Omnibus Bill

An update from the MN Broadband Coalition…

Senate Tucks Broadband Funding into Jobs Omnibus Bill
The Minnesota Senate amended the Jobs and Economic Development Omnibus Bill on Monday, June 21 to include $70 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. As we have said in this space before, the Legislature’s final weeks are fluid, and nothing is a sure thing until the vote is completed on a bill. Such is the case with broadband funding this week.
Legislative leadership’s plan for broadband was to include it in a bonding bill. However, as the special session has progressed, Senate leadership became less confident in the prospects of a bonding bill meeting the supermajority threshold necessary to pass the House. Since regular budget bills require a simple majority, they decided to add the broadband funding to the Jobs Omnibus Bill. For those keeping score at home, this is broadband’s third home this year: agriculture, bonding, and now jobs.
The Senate took up the Jobs bill Tuesday, June 22 and eventually passed it 45-21.
We do not know what the House will do with this bill or if the Jobs bill will be the final home for broadband this year. Regardless, the funding is agreed upon by the House, Senate, and Governor and we are optimistic they will not leave Saint Paul without funding it. Leaders have said they want to have the budget closed up by Friday. The state will officially shut down on July 1 without a budget, but various aspects of state government—including campground reservations, state employee layoffs, and road construction projects—will start winding down by the end of this week if the Legislature doesn’t act. They have lots of incentive to get the job done! We will keep you updated.

MN legislators agree to$70 million on broadband

I have already noted this number in an earlier post, but always fun to see mainstream media talk about broadband as a win. MinnPost reports

Minnesota lawmakers this year have said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for universal access to quality internet as many residents worked or attended school from home.

In response to the lack of adequate broadband in parts of the state, especially rural areas, legislators agreed to spend $70 million on a state grant program that aims to build high-speed internet infrastructure across Minnesota.

The windfall, likely paid for by the stimulus plan approved by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year, isn’t enough to completely close internet disparities that have long plagued Minnesota, and the state may still miss goals for broadband speed and distribution set for 2022. But if legislators approve the cash in a special session later this month, it would be the largest infusion of money into the program since it began in 2014.

And some details…

But legislative leaders did agree on $70 million for broadband. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, told MinnPost on Thursday the money would come out of a $179 million ARP fund dedicated specifically by the feds for capital infrastructure projects.

Gazelka said they landed on $70 million over the two-year budget because that’s how much lawmakers felt the program could handle, but he didn’t close the door on eventually spending more than $70 million by the time a final budget is passed. “It could be more than that, but that was the minimum that we would do there,” he said.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said Friday that legislators are still waiting for more guidance on the $179, and that it’s possible it must all be spent on broadband over several years. “There’s a big question about whether that money can be spent on actually anything else,” Hortman said. “So it might all end up being spent on broadband but we don’t know.”

Legislators around Mankato are pleased to see broadband funding in MN Budget

Mankato Free Press reports

Local legislators across the board are pleased to see state leaders including broadband funding in a recently announced budget framework, even if they differ on how much the state should have spent.

An agreement between the DFL majority in the House, GOP majority in the Senate, and Gov. Tim Walz provides $70 million over the next two years for broadband projects. It’s unclear whether that money will come from state or federal sources, but lawmakers agree it’s a necessary part of this year’s budget talks.

“It’s good news for Greater Minnesota because without broadband we just can’t compete,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska.

Several local legislators have worked on broadband issues in recent years as a means to improve the region’s quality of life. Rep. Susan Akland, R-St. Peter, and Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, submitted broadband funding bills this spring after the COVID-19 pandemic compounded the need for internet service throughout the state.

“I don’t think we can wait for our kids that don’t have access to their homework, don’t have access to their schooling,” Draheim said.

He and Akland both noted the $70 million agreement is more than Walz initially requested for broadband projects earlier this year, but it still falls short of what some lawmakers had desired.

More views from local legislators…

Rep. Luke Frederick, DFL-Mankato, said he was glad to see state leaders emphasize broadband funding in this week’s budget framework, but he would have preferred the Legislature allocate $120 million toward broadband to improve internet access in rural areas.

“All of these different aspects, whether we talk about telehealth, whether we talk about distance learning, whether we even talk about the future of transportation, data infrastructure needs to be in place,” Frederick said.

Draheim pointed out the state’s Office of Broadband Development will likely be swamped with requests as is, while some of the billions of dollars Minnesota is expecting in federal COVID-10 aid will likely go to broadband projects.

MRBC Legislative Update: State Leaders Agree on $70 Million for Broadband

An update from the MN Broadband Coalition

State Leaders Agree on $70 Million for Broadband
State leaders announced the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program will receive $70 million over the next two years. The funding is part of a $52 billion two-year budget agreement. Governor Tim Walz, Senate Majority Paul Gazelka, and Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman announced the deal at a joint press conference this morning, the final day of the 2021 legislative session. The group retreated behind closed doors in May and negotiations ramped up significantly during the last week. They emerged with a deal much like they did during the 2019 session. They touted their ability to work together despite divided government and a partisan political atmosphere.

Funding Source TBD
$70 million is the largest multi-year investment in the program’s history. But whether legislators use federal funding or state funding is still up in the air. The American Rescue Plan guidance that Minnesota received this month explicitly named broadband as an appropriate use for the nearly $3 billion State and Local Fiscal Recovery fund in addition to the $179 million Capital Projects fund. However, legislators believe it’s important that the state has some “skin in the game” and that using state general fund revenue to leverage federal funds may be prudent. The Coalition agrees. The funding and potential policy details will likely be worked out by the same Agriculture conference committee that worked together for most of the last month. We anticipate that the broadband funding will be multi-year which will allow communities and the Office of Broadband Development more flexibility.

Special Session in June
There are less than 10 hours left in the legislative session, so lawmakers will need a special session to complete the work. The timeline outlined by negotiators is as follows:

  • May 28: fiscal spreadsheets for spending bills are due to leadership.
  • June 4: bill language for spending bills is due to leadership.
  • June 14: special session to pass bills and vote on Governor’s emergency powers.

What about Policy Changes?
Those who have been following our updates closely know that there were some proposed changes to broadband policy that the Coalition opposed this year, like adding “fixed wireless” to the state broadband definitions. None of these items made it into the conference committee report on policy changes in SF 958 which was just passed 67-0 by the Senate and will be passed by the House later today. In fact, despite having the name “broadband” in the bill title, there are no broadband provisions in the bill. That includes the changes to broadband definitions the Senate debated earlier this session. The Coalition will still monitor the status of the upcoming spending bills to make sure these provisions are not included.

Waiting for broadband in Alexandria MN

Alexandria Echo Press posts a letter to the editor…

Last year our neighborhood was excited to receive notice that Runestone Telecom would be installing high speed internet cable with access to our homes, thanks to the state Border-Border Grant Program. One year later we’re still waiting for that high speed internet access.

A news report in the April 9 Echo Press gives the statewide goal for internet access speed of 25 megabits per second downloading and 3 mbps uploading by the year 2022. Our home internet speed test is 0.89 mbps downloading and 0.19 mbps uploading, making basic internet access frustrating. I can imagine how impossible it would be to work from home or to do online schooling.

The author bring up the history of the grant funding…

The Echo Press also reported that Gov. Walz is proposing to budget $50 million for the state Border-to-Border Program for 2021. In 2016 Gov. Dayton proposed $100 million for the newly created state program. Republican legislators, who claim to represent rural interests, cut the grant to $28 million.

MRBC Legislative Update: House Passes Agriculture Bill, Broadband Funding

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

House Passes Agriculture Bill, Broadband Funding
The MN House of Representatives passed its Agriculture Omnibus Bill SF 958 Thursday afternoon 69-63. $30 million for the Border-to-Border Grant Program and $350,000 per year for the Office of Broadband Development are among the provisions. The House has passed quite a few of its omnibus finance and policy bills this week. The debate and passage of the agriculture bill took only a few hours. Some bills this week took well over 8 hours of floor debate and amendments before they were passed.
The Senate already passed its omnibus package late last week. Their bill included $40 million in funding with the option of up to $120 million if federal funds became available. The bill also included the same $350,000 per year for the Office of Broadband and some policy provisions that the House did not consider this year. The next step is a conference committee of 10 to resolve the differences between the two bills. Here are the conferees:

  • Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) Co-Chair
  • Sen. Gene Dornink (R-Hayfield)
  • Sen. Mike Goggin (R-Red Wing)
  • Sen. Bruce Anderson (R-Buffalo Township)
  • Sen. Erin Murphy (DFL-Saint Paul)
  • Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko) Co-Chair
  • Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Center)
  • Rep. Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona)
  • Rep. Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield)
  • Rep. Nathan Nelson (R-Hinckley)

The conference committee will meet to review the differences and the co-chairs will begin to negotiate a final deal that can pass both chambers of the Legislature. Typically, the Agriculture budget is one of the more collegial items that the Legislature passes, so it is a good thing that broadband funding is part of the bill.
We will ask conferees to make the largest investment in broadband that they can and to remove the policy changes from the bill, including altering the statutory broadband definitions to include “fixed wireless.” Ideally, we would like to see a clean funding bill.
There are less than four weeks left in the legislative session before they adjourn for the year on May 17th. The next stage of the legislative process will be fluid and information could change in a matter of hours. Please bear with us as we navigate this, and we will keep you as up to date as possible.

Senators Weber and Rosen support the Ag Bill with $40 million for broadband over two years

The Lakefield Standard reports

Local state senators say the agriculture budget bill approved by the Senate last week is focused on helping Minnesota farmers while also spurring innovation in the agriculture industry and providing resources for broadband expansion throughout the state.

“This is a bipartisan compromise that focuses on our shared agricultural and rural priorities,” local state Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said after voting for the bill last Wednesday. “We’re helping Minnesotan farmers and our rural communities by prioritizing innovative investment, mental health and broadband infrastructure to drive development across our state.”

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, agreed.

“There are few things more important to the success of our state than a strong agriculture economy,” Rosen said after casing her vote for the bill last Wednesday. “This bill continues our rich tradition of ag innovation and provides resources for important priorities, like mental health support and broadband expansion to communities that need it most.”

Here are the specifics…

The Senate agriculture budget bill also gives historic funding to the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program at $40 million over the next two fiscal years. This funding will develop permanent broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas.