MN Border-to-Border Broadband Applications FAQs

From the MN Office of Broadband Development…

Border-to-Border Application Frequently Asked Questions

Border-to-Border Broadband Application FAQs have been added to the Broadband website.

A reminder that June 23 is the Pre-Application Outreach deadline (only two weeks away).  If you plan to submit a grant application, this outreach must be done by June 23.

Required Pre-Application Outreach to Other Providers

Minnesota law 116J.395, subd. 5(9) requires that an application include evidence that no later than six weeks before submission of the application the applicant contacted, in writing, all entities providing broadband service in the proposed project area to ask for each broadband service provider’s plan to upgrade broadband service in the project area to speeds that meet or exceed the state’s broadband speed goals in section 237.012, subd. 1, within the time frame specified in the proposed grant activities. The application is also to include the broadband providers written responses. This means that the required notification to other providers must be completed by June 23, 2022 for an application to be submitted by the last day of the filing window of August 4, 2022. This requirement is in statute and cannot be waived; an application that does not contain the necessary information will not be considered for funding.

Call for MN Border-to-Border Broadband Applications

More detail from DEED on the grants that were announced earlier today…

Program Description and Background

In order to continue to promote broadband infrastructure expansion for areas of Minnesota that remain unserved or underserved, public sector investment is necessary. The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was initially established by the 2014 legislature to assist with costly deployment projects that might not occur without public financial assistance. Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes §§ 116J.394-116J.398, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has the authority to award grants to assist broadband providers with eligible infrastructure installation costs.

Funding Availability for FY2022/23

The funding available to be awarded to selected grantees will be $95 million. As designated in the 2022 legislative session, $25 million has been appropriated from state general revenue funds as available funding for the next round of the Minnesota broadband grant program. In the 2021 Special Session, $70 million for FY2022 and 2023 was approved by the state legislature from the Federal American Rescue Plan Act Capital Projects Funds for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program. Priority consideration will be given to projects that leverage greater amounts of funding for a project from other private and public sources. The maximum individual grant amount is $5 million. The maximum grant funding award cannot exceed 50% of the eligible total project costs.

Eligible Applicants

Eligible applicants for this program are an incorporated business or partnership, a political subdivision, an Indian tribe, a Minnesota nonprofit organization organized under chapter 317A, a Minnesota cooperative association organized under chapter 308A or 308B, or a Minnesota limited liability corporation organized under chapter 322C for the purpose of expanding broadband access.

Eligible Project Areas

Broadband development projects located in unserved or underserved areas are eligible. An unserved area is an area of Minnesota in which households or businesses lack access to wire-line broadband service at speeds that meet the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) threshold of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 megabits per second (Mbps) upload. An underserved area is an area of Minnesota in which households or businesses do receive service at or above the FCC threshold of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up, but lack access to wire-line broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload.

Eligible Program Costs

The Broadband Development Grant Program can pay up to 50% of the total costs for a qualifying project. Eligible costs refer to the costs associated with the acquisition and installation of middle mile and/or last mile infrastructure that can support broadband service scalable to speeds of at least 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload.

Matching Funds Requirement

To obtain a broadband development grant, the applicant must provide for the funding not covered by the grant with matching funds. The match can come from any private and/or public sources that allow for such use and are available to the applicant. The state grant funding period begins after the grant application is received, evaluated, and officially approved by the DEED Commissioner with an award letter and executed contract.

Required Pre-Application Outreach to Other Providers

Minnesota law 116J.395, subd. 5(9) requires that an application include evidence that no later than six weeks before submission of the application the applicant contacted, in writing, all entities providing broadband service in the proposed project area to ask for each broadband service provider’s plan to upgrade broadband service in the project area to speeds that meet or exceed the state’s broadband speed goals in section 237.012, subd. 1, within the time frame specified in the proposed grant activities. The application is also to include the broadband providers written responses. This means that the required notification to other providers must be completed by June 23, 2022, for an application to be submitted by the last day of the filing window of August 4, 2022. This requirement is in statute and cannot be waived; an application that does not contain the necessary information will not be considered for funding.

Selection Criteria

Applications will be reviewed by Office of Broadband Development staff, are eligible for a maximum 120 reviewer scoring points, and will be ranked on the following categories:

  • Anticipated broadband improvements – up to 20 points
  • Grant funding request amount – up to 10 points
  • Critical need/Community participation – up to 15 points
  • Project readiness – up to 25 points
  • Project sustainability – up to 25 points
  • Economic development and community impact – up to 15 points
  • Broadband adoption assistance – up to 10 points

Application Window and Deadlines for FY2022/23 Grants

The Minnesota Broadband Grant Program is a competitive grant award cycle for this 2021 and 2022 legislative appropriation for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. The grant application for the FY2022/23 round will be available on June 2, 2022. A copy of the application packet can be found on DEED’s website and under the “2022 Application Process” tab.

All applications must be received at DEED on or before the application deadline of August 4, 2022, no later than 4:00 p.m. Central Time

Applications MUST be UPLOADED to DEED via Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) portal on or prior to 4:00 p.m. Central Time on August 4, 2022, to be deemed eligible for funding. The application portal to submit your completed application will open July 8, 2022. The instructions to submit your application via the SFTP portal will be located on the same Office of Broadband Development (OBD) web page as above.

Announcement of awards is anticipated in Fall 2022.

Contact Information

For more information and Grant Instructions and Application Packet, consult our website, under Broadband Grant Program – 2022 Application Process tab. OBD/DEED will be posting a series of webinars to provide potential Applicants with more information about the program. Details about the recorded webinars will be available soon. Questions may also be submitted to deed.broadband@state.mn.us and will be answered in FAQs posted to the website. Questions may be asked until the submission deadline of 4:00 p.m. central time on August 4, 2022.

Minnesota Government Data Practices Act

Under Minn. Stat. § 13.599:

  • Names and addresses of grant applicants and the amount requested will be public data once proposal responses are opened.
  • All remaining data in proposal responses (except trade secret data as defined and classified by § 13.37) will be public data once OBD has completed negotiating all grant agreements with the selected grantees.

All data created or maintained by OBD as part of the evaluation process (except trade secret data as defined and classified in § 13.37) will be public data once OBD has completed negotiating all grant agreements with the selected grantees.

DEED Announces Historic Funding for Broadband: Border to Border grant applications are open

Big news from DEED…

Today, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) launched a Request for Proposals (RFP) that will award $95 million in broadband grants across the state, applications must be submitted by August 4, 2022 at 4:00 p.m. Building on appropriations from both the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions, this grant round contains the highest-ever amount of funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure grant program. Funding from two sources – state and federal – can be used to reimburse for up to half the cost of the broadband infrastructure deployed. Funding for a single project is capped at $5 million.

“This historic level of broadband funding will increase opportunities for Minnesotans across the state, said Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, “Now, more than ever, broadband is what connects Minnesotans to their education, jobs and the rest of the world.”

On the state funding side, in May 2022 Governor Tim Walz signed legislation appropriating $50 million — $25M in FY23 and $25M in FY24 – from the state’s general fund for broadband. This bolsters the state’s practice since 2014 of providing state funds to build out broadband service in areas of the state where it is challenging to do so.

For federal broadband funding, the remaining $70 million available for grant awards in this round is federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Capital Projects Fund, administered by the U.S. Department of Treasury (Treasury).

“High-speed, high-quality broadband is central to modern life – from schools to business to healthcare and beyond,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove. “This historic round of funding will go a long way towards connecting the over 240,000 homes & businesses that remain without access to the “modern plumbing” of today’s economy.”

Requirements and application materials for this competitive grant program are available on DEED’s website.

Gov Walz signs agriculture funding bill – including funding for broadband

WCCO reports

 Gov. Tim Walz signed an agriculture funding bill Thursday that includes drought relief for farmers, investments in rural broadband and support for beginning farmers.

The Legislature passed the bill Sunday in the closing hours of the 2022 legislative session. …

And the bill includes over $200 million to support further broadband development in rural Minnesota.

“As farmers grapple with extreme weather, costs of modernization, and unforeseen events like avian influenza, this bipartisan bill helps to address some of the most urgent issues facing our agricultural producers,” Walz said in a statement.

MRBC Legislative Update: Money for broadband through Drought Relief, Agriculture, and Broadband Omnibus Bill (HF3420)

From the Minnesota Broadband Coalition…

Broadband Update
The Legislature approved $210 million for broadband expansion as part of the Drought Relief, Agriculture, and Broadband Omnibus Bill (HF3420). Members of the House and Senate appointed to the conference committee negotiated a compromise on a mix of state and federal funds, with most funding allocated to the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program.

  • $50 million general fund for Border-to-Border ($25 million in FY23 and $25 million in FY24).
  • $60.7 million ARPA Capital Projects Fund (must be spent by 2026).
    • Up to $30 million for a low-density pilot program:
      • Increased state match to 75% and grant cap to $10 million.
      • Report back to the Legislature by 12/31/2023 on impact of match and cap changes.
    • Up to $15 million for state broadband mapping.
    • Up to $15 million for a line extension pilot program.
    • Any unused funds for the above three categories revert to the Border-to-Border fund.
  • $50 million ARPA Capital Projects Fund left unallocated by the Legislature for Governor Walz to spend within the bounds of Treasury guidelines.
  • Ensures all funds the state receives from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act ($100m+) will be deposited in the Border-to-Border Grant Program for future infrastructure grants.

The conference committee wrapped up their report on Saturday, May 21, and the House promptly passed the legislation a few hours later, 69-64. The Senate took up the bill on Sunday, May 22, and passed it 66-1. The bill heads to Governor Walz for his signature. The general fund appropriation means the Office of Broadband Development will issue an RFP for infrastructure grants as soon as possible, with the intention of getting some projects completed during the 2022 construction season. The additional general fund and federal money brings long-term stability to a popular program that has been hampered by intermittent funding since its inception.

Minnesota Legislature approves bill to fund broadband infrastructure

MinnPost reports

The impasse over broadband infrastructure wasn’t as lengthy but it was at times heated.

Minnesota is expecting a windfall of federal money for broadband, but little of it has materialized yet. The Legislature in 2021 approved $70 million for the state’s border-to-border program that subsidizes developers to build in rural areas, where it would otherwise be too costly.

That money came from a $180 million “capital projects” fund within Minnesota’s share of the federal American Rescue Plan, however, and it has been so slow to be finalized by the federal government that the state missed a construction season.

For that reason, and others, the Walz administration pushed for $170 million in state, not federal, spending this year on broadband infrastructure. The Senate GOP proposed using $110 million left in the capital projects fund from the ARP for broadband infrastructure. There has been debate over how to use that $110 million because it can also be used for a few other purposes, like buying devices and equipment to facilitate internet access or certain building projects such as upgrading a library or community health center.

The House DFL, much to the chagrin of the Walz administration and some rural Democrats, officially proposed just $25 million in general fund cash and didn’t release a plan for the capital projects fund.

In the end, lawmakers agreed to spend $50 million in state money over the next three years on broadband grants and approved $60.7 million from the capital projects fund to build or support broadband infrastructure. Walz will decide how to use the remaining ARP capital projects money within the bounds of federal guidelines.

The Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus is doing the math a little differently…

The legislation directs over $210 million, the bulk of which comes from federal funds, to improve Minnesota broadband access across the state. This is in addition to the $70 million in federal funds that the legislature directed last session. This includes up to $30 million for the Lower Population Density Pilot Program to connect hard to reach unserved areas, up to $15 million for the Line Extension Program to connect difficult to reach individual homes, up to $15 million for updated broadband mapping, and the remaining funds to the successful Border-to-Border Broadband grant program.

I’ve seen that number ($210 million) used in other places too; but I’m not sure where it comes from – especially if, as the article from MSRC says, this is in addition to other funding. But I do know a lot of people worked a lot of long hours over the weekend to get it done.

MN Conference Committee comes up with $25M in state and $60M in federal request for broadband

The Session Daily (from May 21) reports…

With time to work dwindling, a conference committee working to reconcile agriculture bills came to an agreement on several appropriations and policy changes Saturday.

The conference committee report to HF3420 combines the omnibus agriculture and broadband supplemental finance and policy bill with one that would provide relief to farmers from the 2021 drought.

It was passed 69-64 by the House a few hours later. It now awaits Senate action.

“We’ve got a very strong, solid bill for the state of Minnesota on all the fronts for farmers, for agriculture, for rural broadband and the connectivity that’s become so important in our lives,” said Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), who sponsors the bill with Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko). “We can be, I think, proud as a conference committee to be a big piece of this policy and financing that will be moving forward.”

“It’s been somewhat of a longer journey than probably necessary, but I think we hit on all the points,” Sundin said. “Had we had more money, it would have been a little better bill.”

The combined total in new appropriations for agriculture, drought relief and broadband would be $50.9 million from the General Fund in the current biennium and $32.5 million in the next biennium.

More detail…

Improving broadband access throughout the state would get a big boost. An appropriation of $25 million from the General Fund in fiscal year 2023 would be transferred to the Border-to-Border Broadband Fund.

The Department of Employment and Economic Development must also prepare a grant application to the U.S. Treasury Department, requesting that $60.7 million of Minnesota’s capital projects fund be allocated for broadband projects.

The total would fund a lower population density pilot program to provide broadband to unserved and underserved areas, as well as a broadband line extension program.

It’s a little bit of the best from the House and the Senate. The Senate had recommended $110 million in federal funds to broadband, while the House is recommended $25 million from General Funds. It’s less money than the Senate recommended but having money coming from the general funds means the Border to Border grants can happen without the red tape of the federal government.

House and Senate working to reconcile broadband issues as part of larger Omnibus bill

I reported on this meeting yesterday, but here’s the official word from Session Daily

The committee received a walkthrough of HF4366, which includes differences of $180 million in housing appropriation changes in fiscal year 2023 and $185 million in the next biennium. Differences in agriculture and broadband appropriation changes are $76.4 million in fiscal year 2023 and $7.8 million in the following biennium.

Here’s the detail related to broadband…

The House would appropriate $25 million from the General Fund to the Border-to-Border Broadband Fund account as a one-time transfer in fiscal year 2023. The bill would increase the percentage of the grants to cover 75% of a project from the current 50% and would establish that grants to a single project cannot exceed $10 million, double the current level.

Establishment of a pilot program to provide broadband service to unserved and underserved areas of the state is included in the Senate bill. So is seeking to use federal funding, with a grant application program to the U.S. Department of the Treasury requesting that $110.7 million of Minnesota’s capital projects fund be allocated for grants.

[MORE: View a side-by-side comparison of the broadband portion]

MRBC Update: Senate Passes Broadband Package ($110 million)

The MN Broadband Coalition reports…

Senate Passes Broadband Package
The Minnesota Senate passed the Omnibus Agriculture, Housing, and Broadband bill yesterday 41-26. HF 4366 was received by the Senate after it passed the House earlier this week. The Senate amended the bill with a “delete everything” amendment and added their preferred spending and policy package. This includes $110 million for broadband which comes from the Capital Projects Fund. Additionally, they included language that would increase the state’s match from 50% to 75% as well as the line extension pilot program, broadband easements for cable providers, and other language directing the state to spend the forthcoming BEAD funds on the Border-to-Border program.

As a reminder, the House position is $25 million in general fund cash, no federal funding, and raising the match to 75% as well as increasing the project cap from $5 million to $10 million.

The two versions of this bill will be reconciled in a conference committee that will be appointed soon. Typical conference committees are made up of five members from the House and 5 members of the Senate. They will first work through their same and similar provisions and then tackle areas of disagreement. The Legislature must adjourn by May 23 and there is plenty of time for a deal to come together. We will keep you updated as things move forward.

MRBC Update: House Passes Broadband Funding

From the Minnesota Broadband Coalition…

House Passes $25 million for Broadband Funding
The Minnesota House passed HF 4366—the omnibus Agriculture, Housing, and Broadband bill—just before midnight last night 70-62. The vote came after 2 hours of debate. Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-Int’l Falls) again expressed concern that the bill’s $25 million in general fund is not a large enough investment given the need to secure funds for this summer’s construction season. He was joined by Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), who outlined the pitfalls of limited state investment and deep uncertainty of federal funding through RDOF, ARPA, and the forthcoming BEAD funds. The bill was sent to the Senate for further action.
The Senate will likely take up their own similar bill this week and pass it. The Senate version contains $110 million in Capital Projects Fund money and no general funds. We expect a conference committee to be appointed after the Senate version of the bill is passed and sent to the House. Conference Committee chairs will work to find common ground on same and similar positions within the bill. From there, negotiations will likely be kicked up to the leadership level, where the Governor, House Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader will have final say on the source and how much broadband funding will be included in the final spending package.

$100 million for broadband in MN House became $25 million

The MN Session Daily reports

Representatives from both sides of the aisle questioned the combining of omnibus bills in the House Ways and Means Committee, but the process continued and the three bills became one Tuesday.

HF14as amended, the broadband supplemental finance bill, and HF4376, the housing supplemental finance and policy bill, were added to HF4366as amended, the agriculture supplemental finance and policy bill before the latter was approved on a 16-9 party-line vote and sent to the House Floor.

Combining the bills was done to bring the total package more in line with SF4019 that also contains a package of agriculture, housing and broadband provisions. Sponsored by Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), it awaits action on the Senate Floor.

More importantly or pointed for broadband watchers – the amended request for funds (HF14) is much lower than had been expected…

Sponsored by Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls), HF14, would appropriate $25 million to the Office of Broadband Development for the Border-to-Border Broadband program. An approved amendment from Rep. Gene Pelowski, Jr. (DFL-Winona) lowered the one-time appropriation from $100 million.

You can see the very brief discussion below:

It is now a one-time appropriation of $25 million – to meet the budget resolution made available yesterday. There is a recommendation that the community match be lowered to 25 percent match required.

MRBC Update: Legislature Returns Tomorrow, Where Does Broadband Stand?

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Legislature Returns Tomorrow, Where Does Broadband Stand?
Minnesota Legislators return to Saint Paul tomorrow morning to begin the final portion of the 2022 legislative session after a 10-day Easter/Passover break. The Legislature must adjourn by May 23 and there is still no agreement on what to do with the $9 billion budget surplus and other pressing legislative items. Those who follow the Legislature closely know that spending deals tend to come together in the final two weeks of the session, so things are moving at a familiarly slow pace. The only caveat is the Legislature assembled and passed their two-year budget in the 2021 session. The takeaway? There is no constitutional requirement for them to pass a supplemental budget bill this year—despite the historically large surplus—and every seat is on the ballot this fall. Expect a bumpy finish.
Where Does Broadband Stand?
In the House, $100 million in state general funds for the Border-to-Border program is in HF 14 and HF 4375. Both bills are identical and currently parked in the Ways and Means Committee awaiting their fate. They could be amended on to a larger spending bill (like the Agriculture Committee’s omnibus bill) or move on their own. The House’s committee structure is not the same as the Senate and broadband bills go through a different committee in the House than in the Senate, making it difficult to match up if broadband provisions are in different omnibus bills in each chamber. The strategy of moving HF 14 and HF 4375 independently was used to give the House flexibility as we enter the final weeks of the session. Additionally, there is language in these bills to increase the state’s portion of the matching funds from 50% to 75% of a project cost. There is also language to increase the maximum project cost from $5 million to $10 million. DEED and the Office of Broadband Development must report back to the Legislature on how these changes have affected the grant program. HF 3605, the Line Extension Grant Program, is currently on the House Floor awaiting action.
In the Senate, there are several broadband provisions in SF 4019, the Agriculture Omnibus Bill. It is currently on the Senate Floor, awaiting action. $110 million remaining in the Capital Projects Fund would be directed to the Border-to-Border program in addition to requiring all funds from the forthcoming federal Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment Program be used for the Border-to-Border program (as well as language to allow DEED to conform to federal program standards). Policy items in this bill include allowing OBD to develop and spend up to $15 million for a low-density pilot program, increasing the state match from 50% to 75%, but leaving the $5 million project cap intact. Finally, the bill contains the Line Extension Grant Program which is also a standalone bill (SF 3476) currently on the Senate Floor awaiting action.
What’s Next?
The good news is that both the House and Senate are proposing $100 million+ for broadband. The governor’s supplemental budget proposal included $170 million in general funds for broadband as well. Our strategy will be to support the funding and let negotiators find an agreement on the funding source, whether that be all general funds, all federal funds, or a combination of both. The next step is for the House and Senate to pass their omnibus spending packages and form conference committees to negotiate the differences between their positions. You can expect to see this happen within the next few weeks. As always, we will keep you updated on any movement or changes.

Broadband in MN House Ways and Means – April 19 at 9am

Tomorrow the MN House Ways and Means will meet and broadband is on their agenda. HF14 looks to:

Transfers funds for the border-to-border broadband program, increases the maximum grant amount (from $5M ro $10M), and requires a report to the legislature. The Transfer makes a onetime $100,000,000 transfer in fiscal year 2023 from the general fund to the border-to-border broadband fund account. Keeps funds available until expended.

Her are the details from the MN House website

Chair: Rep. Rena Moran
Location: Hybrid Hearing
Time Note

Committee will meet until 10:45 AM, recess, and return at 1:00 PM to complete the agenda.

Agenda:

  1. Adoption of Budget Resolution
    II. HF3438 (Lillie) Legacy Finance Omnibus
    III. Agriculture, Housing, Broadband Omnibus
    -HF4376 (Hausman) Supplemental Housing Finance
    -HF14 (Ecklund) Supplemental Broadband Finance
    -HF4366 (Sundin) Supplemental Agriculture Finance
    NOTE: The language of HF4376 and HF 14 will be added to HF4366 during the hearing
    Other bills may be added
    This hybrid committee hearing will be held in-person in State Capitol Room 120 with remote participation from members and testifiers available. The capacity for State Capitol Room 120 is 60 audience seats, please plan accordingly.
    AMENDMENT DEADLINE FOR BILLS: Noon, April 18, 2022
    MEETING DOCUMENTS: Meeting documents will be posted on the House Ways & Means Committee website at https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/Committees/Home/92029

Is the Line Extension Program Legislation Right for MN? Maybe not

Broadband is a problem that can be solved with money. But it can be solved quicker and more economically if we are good stewards with that money. Minnesota has been lauded for the Border to Border grant program that has invested more than $126 million in state grant funds awarded to 179 projects, deploying service to more than 57,000 homes and businesses. (Quick math makes that $2,225 state investment per location.) Minnesota communities and providers have applauded the program. So I was surprised when the MN Cable Association introduced the Line Extension Program as a new way to spend money that would otherwise go into that successful program.

I’ve written about the basics of the Line Extension Program and Easements and I even had some immediate questions but now I’ve had time to research and have heard the topic discussed at the Task Force meeting and a Senate Committee meeting; I have some more thoughts.

A quick recap: the proposal is a portal where households can repot lack of broadband, the Office of Broadband Development would make sure those addresses qualified (were unserved) and then every six months open a reserve auction where providers could bid to extend service to those homes. The money for the program would come from the Border to Border grant money.

Last Fall, Pew published an article on how states can use line extension programs to expand broadband. They outlined how the bill is working in some states and how it was proposed in others. There were some notable difference in the MN version:

  • MN is looking at a maximum of $25,000 per line extension. California has a $9300 maximum; Vermont has $3,000 and Indiana has a $25,000 maximum and includes a maximum of $4800 per passing (home). The Minnesota budget is not in the same ballpark at all.
  • MN does not differentiate between wireline and wireless solutions. California and Vermont do and budget for wireless service is $500(CA) and $300(VT) – considerably less than for a wireline solution.
  • The Minnesota bill does not define served and unserved or specify a required upgrade speeds. I assume they would use the Border to Border definitions but it would be helpful to have that here. Indiana uses 25 Mbps down and 3 up as their served/unserved definition. And they use “actual” speeds, which opens the door to discussions with provider about quality or service rather than assume that either provider or consumer is correct.

The Line Extension Program provides a mechanism that allows the consumer to initiate the process. That is an improvement when the only other programs available place the providers in the driver’s seat. Minnesota is unique in that the homeowner has had a voice through community participation in the Border to Border grants. What’s difficult here is that the Line Extension Program will give a lot of voice to single homeowners while potentially drowning out the voice of the community.

I’ve been to meetings where a community is deciding whether to invest in their portion (match) of a Border to Border grant. Sunrise Township voted to work with CentryLink on a grant application. Homeowners approved bonding that would cost them (each) roughly $100 a year to invest in fiber to the home. There was federal funding (CenturyLink used their CAF money), a State grant and local funding used in the program. That’s the power of community agreement and aggregating need.

In that project, Sunrise/CenturyLink received a $1,074,852 Border to Border grant to serve 584 unserved households, 10 unserved businesses, and 2 community anchor institutions. Now if those 584 homes (I’ll ignore the other entities) were to use the Line Extension Program to get funded and they were funded to the maximum, the cost to the State would be $14,600,000. If they only received half of the line extension limit it would still be more than $7 million.

We have 240,000 households that need service in Minnesota. So while it’s unlikely that a whole community would choose to go for Line Extension, it is conceivable that 584 people around the state would apply and qualify for funding. It’s also conceivable that another community would apply for a Border to Border grant similar to the Sunrise project. For Minnesota tax payers, the Border to Border grants are a more cost-effective was to serve 584 households. And going back to past investment, we’re averaging $2,225 State funds per household – that’s a far cry from the proposed $25,000.

MN Senate Committee talk about broadband, DNR licenses and cable line extension program

The MN Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy met today to learn about broadband. They heard from Office of Broadband Development, DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and MN Cable Communications Association (MCCA) .

Office of Broadband Development gave an update on what’s happening with broadband in the state and upcoming federal funding. (The presentation was so similar to what I wrote up earlier from the MN Task Force Meeting that I only wrote up questions.) The DNR spoke about the dramatic increase in broadband applications (to cross state land) has double in the last three years and they need two more staff members. MCCA came in to give an industry perspective and talk about Line Extension Program, which would use Border to Border money to serve single homes just out of community reach through a reverse auction to their provider for up to $25,000 per home. (That bill will be introduced tomorrow.)

I have posted some notes but mostly questions/answers below. Or can also watch the video:

Angie Dickison – Office of Broadband Development

Q: How much funding is needed to connect all of MN to broadband?
A: $1.3 billion

Q: What would State portion be?
A: $500 million

Q: How much of $70 million allocated last year is left
A: All of it, since we’re waiting on federal approval

Q: So we lost a season because we the federal money took longer to get than the state would have?
A: Yes

Q: How can we reach hardest to serve areas?
A: we can look creatively because we get their calls at the OBD. We are looking at the proposed line extension.

Q: Are there enough projects out there to fund?
A: Yes! But multiyear grants are helpful to combat supply chain issues and allow time to plan

Q: If you get more money – what would you do with it?
A: I’d recommend using it for the Border to Border grants.

Q: Any details the feds require that we should know?
A: Treasury did release guidance; it aligns nicely with our Border to Border grants but we’re waiting for approval.

DNR – Susan Damon

We look at Environmental impact of deploying broadband (and other) on land. We look at negative implications of the licenses. They issue 500 utility licenses each year, including broadband lines. 43 percent in 2021 were for fiber. This has been growing. (106 licenses were for broadband in 2019; 160 in 2020; 206 in 2021.) We need 2 more people to handle the work.

Q: What would be a negative impact?
A: depends on how it is installed. Maybe protected species in an area – we’d have for mitigated activities. Generally there are not as many negative impacts. Or might need to replant over holes.

Q: How long does it take to process an application?
A: Regional review takes 10 days

Q: Will you process applications faster with more people?
A: It will help us keep up.

Anna Boroff – MN Cable Association

Cable wants to get broadband to everyone, especially difficult places. Many providers have received federal funding as well as using some of their own. Cable providers have been approved for RDOF projects, are using ARPA funds, waiting for the Border to Border grant applications to be open and waiting to learn about over federal funding.

We will be busy and it’s a big job. We hope legislators can streamline processes to make it easier and faster for us.

Cable would like to talk about more resources to get families connected.

Q: What is the public-private investment ratio?
A: Most of our investment is private capital. Just the tough areas need help.

Q: What percentage do you need for the hard to reach areas?
A: Right now the Border to Border grant asks for 50/50 match. We don’t think that’s enough for some areas – so we’ve come up with a completely new program called the Line Extension.

Q: Does cable have any other grants or government funding? And what percentage is it?
A: There are a lot of resources- APRA, IIJA, RDOF…

Q: What are the biggest challenges for you now?
A: They are all hard – supply chain, worker shortages, short construction season (12 week), permitting – with more capital coming in the problems will get worse

Q:  Sounds like it’s hard for houses that are a mile away from service is really hard. Is that true?
A: Yes.

Q: Hey – can you talk about a pilot program maybe with a reverse auction?
A Yes… the Line Extension Program will be introduced tomorrow.

Q: Where would the money come from for the Line Extension Program?
A: From the Border to Border funds.