MN House take on Governor Walz’s broadband budget

The MN House of Representatives reports on the MN House Ag Finance and Policy Committee Meeting yesterday…

Time is running out to meet Minnesota’s statutory goal to get high-speed internet to all households by 2026.

Nearly 300,000 households do not have access to 100 megabits per second download speeds, which should allow family members to stream, game and Zoom without much trouble.

While 88% of the state can get internet at that speed, only 62% of rural areas can, a reflection of how installation costs per household skyrockets as population density goes down.

A large infusion of cash would put the state much closer to its goal.

Gov. Tim Walz is proposing more than $275 million for the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which funds expansion of internet to underserved areas.

The governor’s budget recommendation presented to the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee Thursday calls for $138 million in each of the next two years to fund grants assisting with middle-mile and last-mile broadband infrastructure. Money could be used for design, permits, installation and testing.

This past year, the Office of Broadband Development distributed $99.6 million in 61 grants out of 130 applications requesting a total of $189.8 million.

Typical grants require a 50% match with a cap of $5 million. However, the broadband office had run a pilot program for very low-density areas with a $10 million cap. The grant could provide 75% of the money.

The office tries to be agnostic as far as the technology, whether fiber, satellite or mobile, said Director Bree Maki, but wired connections have often been more reliable. There is a push, especially when working with federal money, to ensure projects can be built upon, allowing greater speed or reliability in the future.

EVENT Jan 26: MN House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee Meeting

The Minnesota House will be talking about the Governor’s broadband budget request tomorrow (Jan 26). Here’s more info from the House…

Thursday, January 26, 2023
1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
State Capitol, Room 1205857

***ADDED: Overview of the Governor’s Budget Request for broadband.***

 

AGENDA*

  1. Overview of the Governor’s Budget Request for broadband.
  2. Overview by Department of Agriculture, Plant Protection Division.
  3. H.F. 47 (Hansen) Pollinator research funding provided, money transferred, and money appropriated.
  4. H.F. 352 (Hansen) University of Minnesota; heritage oilseed and grain initiative funding provided, and money appropriated.
  5. H.F. 80 (Anderson, P. H.) County agricultural inspector grant funding provided, and money appropriated.

HANDOUTS: Handouts MUST BE IN PDF FORMAT and emailed to the committee administrator by 12 p.m. (noon) the business day before the hearing.  If you are bringing hard copies, bring 40 copies.  Note: submitted written testimony is public and will be included in the official committee record.  It may be posted to the committee webpage if received by deadline.

TESTIFYING: Testimony is limited.  The number of testifiers and length of time permitted is at the discretion of the chair, and is subject to change.  Please plan accordingly.  If you would like to testify, please email the committee administrator by 12 p.m. (noon) the business day before the hearing.

DOCUMENTS: Meeting documents may be found on the Agriculture Finance and Policy webpage.

ACCESSIBILITY: To learn more about requesting an accommodation, please visit the FAQs for Disability Access.  If you have further questions on accommodations or accessibility, please contact the Committee Administrator.

 

Please note that this list serv notification email is not monitored.  If you wish to reply, please email the committee administrator.

Details on Governor Walz’s $270 million broadband budget

According to the official One Minnesota Budget released by Governor Walz…

Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan are investing in Minnesota’s economic future by recruiting and retaining workers, empowering employers to grow their businesses, and making sure Minnesota is creating the jobs of the future right here at home. The One Minnesota Budget invests in everything from agriculture to workforce training to clean energy jobs to make sure Minnesota continues to be competitive in a global economy. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s plan will ensure that
Minnesota is a destination to live, work, and raise a family.

Here are the details on the broadband budget…

Increasing Access to Broadband
The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program expands broadband service to areas of Minnesota that are unserved or underserved in pursuit of the state’s goal that all homes and businesses have access to broadband by 2026. Since its inception in 2014, the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program has provided nearly $230 million to connect 90,000 Minnesota homes and businesses to high-speed internet. Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan recommend $276 million in new funding to expand the reach of this vital program.

More info on Apple Valley Border to Border grant (Dakota County)

The MN House of Representatives

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is awarding approximately $98,750 to deliver broadband infrastructure to 68 households and 1 business in northwest Dakota County, including portions of Apple Valley and Lakeville – all which lack access to qualifying broadband service today.

“Minnesotans deserve fast, reliable internet access they need for work, school, and home,” said Rep. Huot (DFL-Rosemount). “Broadband is a necessity in our modern world, and I’m grateful for our state partnership with Apple Valley to help residents advance and thrive in the 21st century.”

As a result of this broadband grant, Spectrum Mid-America, managed by Charter Communications Inc., will improve broadband service levels, exceeding 2026 state speed goals. The high bandwidth broadband access will assist residents with remote learning and remote working, accommodate members of a household or small business simultaneously using bandwidth-intensive applications, such as video conferencing, telemedicine, video streaming, gaming, virtual or augmented reality sessions, and numerous other applications.

The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was created in 2014. The legislative focus of this grant program is to provide financial resources that help make the business 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 been funded with state general fund revenues and a combination of both state general fund revenues and the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

 

Governor Walz’s budget includes $276 million for broadband

KNSI radio reports

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz Thursday unveiled his proposed two-year, $4.1 billion economic budget.

The budget includes a change making budget for broadband…

It also includes $276 million for border-to-border broadband internet and $10 million for communities struck by potential job losses as power plants close to “diversify their economies” and “find new opportunities for quality jobs and economic growth.”

This is in line (but lower end) with recommendations recently made by the Minnesota Broadband Task Force

They have recommended annual funding for the Border to Border grants through 2026 to meet the speed goals of 100 Mbps down and 20 up. According to the chart (show below) the cost to the State would be $273,784,250 per biennial (for two years, which is the legislative cycle) if the grant match continues to be 50 percent. That number increases to $569,773,625 with a 75 percent match.

More on Border to Border grant in Otter Tail County

Perhan Focus reports

Arvig has been awarded a $1.14 million grant from Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband program to invest in a fiber infrastructure project that will expand high-speed internet access in rural Otter Tail County, according to a press release.

Arvig will invest the grant in a mainline and last-mile fiber-to-the-premise project to bring internet service to 171 unserved and 100 underserved households, farms and businesses in southeast Otter Tail County. The areas served will include the rural Battle Lake, Henning, Parkers Prairie and Urbank areas.

The total cost of the project is estimated at more than $2.8 million and will be funded with the Border-to-Border grant, $998,117 from Otter Tail County and a $712,940 capital investment from Arvig. …

Construction on the network will begin as soon as this year and is slated for completion before June 2025. Once complete, residents will have access to internet speeds from 100 Mbps (20 Mbps upload) up to 10 Gbps (1 Gbps upload), meeting and exceeding Minnesota’s 2026 state speed goal.

MN House is prepared to focus on broadband but is anyone going to ask for future investments for grants?

Brownfield reports on how the Minnesota House is prepared to hear about broadband and it sounds like they may be ready to make investments too. Unfortunately I haven’t heard of anyone preparing to ask for broadband funding. It may be a lost opportunity…

Broadband will be a focus for the Minnesota House Agriculture Policy and Finance Committee this legislative session.

Chair Samantha Vang says the ag committee will oversee broadband for the first time.

“In previous years we really haven’t had a chance during session to explore what the needs are in broadband, and so this year we can delve deeper into the issue of broadband and what we can do to address the needs and inequities.”

Vang, a Democrat representing District 40B, tells Brownfield the Legislature passed funding to support Greater Minnesota last session.

“And I think it would be good as we have committee a hearing next week to hear some updates about how that funding was spent, where the needs are left, and that we can continue to make those investments.”

Scandia is working on their 5 year broadband plan (Washington County)

Country Messenger provides an update on the state of broadband in Scandia…

Since 2020, Scandia’s Internet Action Committee has been working with the goal of bringing high speed broadband to all of Scandia within five years

Between 2020 and 2021, 426 homes were added and in 2021, 171 homes were added.

When the 2022 project is complete, the three-year total will be approximately 586 homes will have access to high-speed internet. This represents 74 percent coverage.

For 2023 Scandia has allocated $432,000 in local funding for another expansion and requested MidCo provide a plan for the city’s approval, including additional outside grant money where possible.

More is planned…

According to Wilmers, “Washington County approved a new grant through the federally funded American Rescue Plan (ARPA) for MidCo to connect an additional 112 homes around Big Marine Lake.”

Total project cost is $745,000, with $280,000 from MidCo, $372,500 from Washington County and $92,500 from Scandia.

“Construction will be spread over two years, starting in 2023 with completion by the end of 2024. The project will deploy 44,000 feet of fiber necessitating the multiyear construction schedule,” said Wilmers.

And in nearby Forest Lake too…

In addition to the high-speed internet expansion projects in Scandia, MidCo also received a Minnesota Broadband grant that will serve 323 homes in Forest Lake in the amount of $975,131.

MidCo received the award from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) through department’s Border-to-Border Development Grant program.

More info on Gardonville’s border to border award in Nelson (Douglas County)

The Alexandria Each reports

High-speed broadband internet access is coming to Nelson in 2023, while residents and businesses in and north of Carlos will have to wait.

In December, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development announced that Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association of Brandon would receive a grant of just over $1.2 million to bring fiber to 300 homes and businesses in and around Nelson.

Of these 300 locations, 59 include home-based businesses or telecommuters. Gardonville has promised to provide 1G per second upload and 1G per second download to all customers, which exceeds Minnesota’s speed goal for 2026.

The grant is half the estimated total project cost of just over $2.4 million.

Some details on the original application…

Gardonville originally sought grants to install broadband for three neighborhoods in 2023, including Carlos and the Buckskin area to the north and west of Carlos. However, Arvig and Charter each challenged portions of Gardonville’s plans, saying that they planned to provide high-speed broadband to those areas within 18 months.

Gardonville CEO Dave Wolf said Gardonville has a good relationship with Arvig and that they were able to reach an agreement that involved Gardonville redrawing its plans to exclude a small area that is in Arvig’s sights. However, he has not been able to reach an agreement with Charter. Regardless, internet providers can apply for another round of grant funding by March, and Wolf said Gardonville plans to apply again for the Carlos and Buckskin areas.

More info on Fillmore County Harmony Border to Border grant

Fillmore County Journal reports

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) announced Harmony Telephone Company as a recipient of a Border-to-Border Grant totaling $1.1 million.

The grant program is a partnership between the State of Minnesota and Fillmore County.

Harmony Telephone Company will use the $1.1 million grant and $1.69 million local match to service 34 unserved households, 22 underserved businesses and 56 unserved farms north of Preston in rural areas of Fillmore County. It will improve speeds to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload on a fiber network, exceeding the state’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals.

And a little more info on Harmony…

Harmony Telephone Company is a privately-held company in Harmony, Minn. It was purchased in 2006 by Mabel Cooperative Telephone Company and Spring Grove Communications. In 2018, MiEnergy Cooperative bought into the company to become an additional owner.  It provides broadband and telephone service to Harmony and the surrounding rural area, as well as, cable TV service in Harmony. Ownership by cooperatives means providing quality service remains a top priority.

More info on Arvig’s Border to Border grants

The Pilot Independent reports

Arvig has been awarded six grants from the State of Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband program which it will invest in fiber infrastructure projects during the next three years to expand and improve high-speed internet access in five counties in Minnesota.

Arvig’s Border-to-Border grant awards, totalling $8.7 million, will be allocated toward constructing six mainline and last-mile fiber-to-the-premise networks around the state by mid-year 2025. The six projects total $28.9 million, with funding from the grants, local matches by city and county funding partners of over $12 million, and Arvig’s own capital investment of more than $8 million.

Duluth City Council prepares for possible fiber project in Lincoln Park

Duluth News Tribune reports

While the City Council has yet to authorize staff to proceed with efforts to construct a municipally owned fiber optic network in Lincoln Park, it has already begun to move money around in anticipation of the proposed pilot project.

Last week, councilors unanimously voted in favor of a resolution to transfer $936,397 from decertified tax-increment financing districts into a newly established “Broadband Enterprise Fund.”

It’s a step but not a commitment…

He went on to say: “This action does not commit the council or the city to moving the pilot forward. It does not commit the council or the city to approve that pilot. But we can’t bring you a funding package if we don’t have a place to put the funding.”

Yet another $1 million in federal pandemic-relief funding from the America Rescue Plan Act had already been funneled into the broadband fund, as the result of a Dec. 5 council resolution.

More info…

If approved, a proposed $5.5 million pilot project in Lincoln Park could lead to the installation of a city-owned high-speed fiber optic network that would provide access to multiple internet service providers. The open-access system is intended to foster competition, delivering faster, more reliable service at a more affordable cost to consumers.

The city continues to pursue state and federal assistance, as it prepares for a possible foray into the internet business.

 

More info on Hennepin County border to border grant

Press & News reports

Nearly $2 million in Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grants will move $6 million in broadband infrastructure projects forward in the cities of Corcoran and Rogers. These projects will enhance digital access for residents and businesses in these underserved areas of Hennepin County District 7.

The grants will defray some of the expenses to building out broadband infrastructure in rural areas, where lower population densities often make such projects cost prohibitive. The funding addresses not only unserved areas which do not have internet access, but also underserved customers which experience slow speeds that make using the internet difficult.

More details…

In Corcoran the total investment is $4.3 million with approximately $3 million in from the city, county and Comcast and $1.3 added from the awarded grant. The project will add a list mile of fiber that will provide or enhance service for:

  • 197 unserved households and 253 underserved households
  • Five unserved businesses and 30 underserved businesses
  • Six unserved farms, and five underserved farms

In Rogers the total investment is $1.6 million with $964,584 from the city, county and Comcast and $643,056 in grant funds. Comcast’s existing network will be extended to:

  • 86 unserved households and 66 underserved households
  • One unserved business and one underserved business and
  • 11 unserved farms

 

More info on Chisago County border to border grant

Chisago County Press reports

The City of Harris is the lone applicant located in Chisago County to have won a grant from almost $100 million awarded for enhancing Minnesota broadband.  The Governor announced the grant winners December 8.

There are 61 projects in 48 counties being awarded the $99.6 million.

Harris is being awarded $465,814.

Harris will partner with CenturyLink’s field contractor to enhance Internet fiber-to-premises service for 119 “unserved” locations and another 66 “under served” spots.  There is already a main “backbone” along the I-35 corridor ideally situated for Harris to connect to.  The enhanced fiber is expected to provided 100 up and 100 down service to meet speed and capacity standards into the future.

Local funding is lining up…

Harris Council is still finalizing the Internet enhancement project finances;  but Mayor Carlson said the plan is to request funds out of the Chisago County broadband enhancement program to help cover payments  due relatively quickly. (Story on County Internet Infrastructure Report was in Press December 8.)

There are multiple options for financing the Internet remaining costs that Harris is consulting on.  City officials need to discuss how to proceed, including if customers are assessed for what’s remaining or if the city adopts a taxing district or if another process is utilized, Carlson explained.

Broadband is “not one of the worst” investments in Minnesota

The Center Square offers one of the most Minnesotan of all compliments…

Minnesota will award $27 million in state funding and $42.6 million in federal funding to broadband expansion projects across the state.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development on Monday launched a request for proposals for the funding. The funding supports the state’s goal that all homes and businesses have access `to broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second by 2026, the news release said.

“I’d say that this is not one of the worst ways for the government to spend money,” Center of the American Experiment Economist John Phelan told The Center Square in an emailed statement Dec. 20. “Unlike most spending that gets called ‘investment,’ this actually is investment in the sense that it ought to increase the economy’s productive capacity and generate a return.”