Reading of the Ag, Rural Dev and Housing Omnibus – still $40M for broadband

Last night I attended the reading of the Omnibus budget that includes $40 million for broadband over the next two years. Here are the documents they discussed:

There wasn’t much about broadband, except that Senator Westrom made a point at the end to say, “Rural broadband is a strong augmentation to the bill we have put together.”

MN Revisor’s Report still shows $40 million for broadband

The Revisor’s report is out for the Conference Committee on SF2226 – the bill that includes broadband funding and it looks like it stood steady at $40 million for grants ($20 million per year) and $250,000 per year for the Office of Broadband Development. The Conference Committee met yesterday. I am still waiting for the audio archive. I will include it when I get it. If there’s anything strange or interesting I’ll create a new post.

ARTICLE 7
BROADBAND DEVELOPMENT
Section 1. BROADBAND DEVELOPMENT APPROPRIATIONS.
The sums shown in the columns marked “Appropriations” are appropriated to the agencies and for the purposes specified in this article. The appropriations are from the general fund, or another named fund, and are available for the fiscal years indicated for each purpose.
The figures “2020” and “2021” used in this article mean that the appropriations listed under them are available for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, or June 30, 2021, respectively.
“The first year” is fiscal year 2020. “The second year” is fiscal year 2021. “The biennium” is fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

APPROPRIATIONS – Available for the Year Ending in June 30
2020 = $20,250,000
2021 = $20,250,000

Sec. 2. DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT
AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

(a) $250,000 each year is for the Broadband Development Office.
(b) $20,000,000 in fiscal year 2020 and $20,000,000 in fiscal year 2021 are appropriated from the general fund to the commissioner of employment and economic
development for deposit in the border-to-border broadband fund account under Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396.
The appropriation is onetime and must be used for grants and the purposes specified under Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.395.”

Revised MN Budget includes $40 million for broadband

Yesterday Legislators and the Governor announced a budget, as MinnPost reports

Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka announced a sweeping deal to settle deep differences on the budget and taxes. At the news conference announcing the deal, the three were all smiles and handshakes; they complimented one another on their willingness to compromise and stay with the closed-door talks that lasted more than a week.

 

Here are the specifics of the budget (for Broadband, Ag and Housing)…

$59.51 million for Broadband, Agriculture and Housing

  • $40 million for broadband in FY20/21 only.

  • $4.51 million in FY20/21 and $3.9 million in FY22/23 for agriculture.

  • $15 million in FY20/21 and $10 million in FY22/23 for housing.

Late last night the MN Senate Agriculture, Rural Development and Housing Finance Committee (the folks who discuss the broadband budget) met, but broadband didn’t come up. They plan to meet today at 2pm in Room 1100 of the Minnesota Senate Bldg. I will plan to attend and livestream. That being said, this late into the session the times are very fluid.

Land O’Lakes tells legislators Minnesota need better broadband

Below is a letter Land O’Lakes sent to the Governor and Legislators and shared with permission…

 

Dear Governor Walz and Legislative Leaders:

I am writing to applaud the bipartisan effort thus far this legislative session to expand high-speed broadband internet connectivity across Minnesota. In the final weeks of this legislative session, I urge your continued collaboration and attention to bridge the significant digital divide that is impacting rural residents, farmers, businesses and communities across our state. I respectfully request that the biennial budget you are currently considering include at least $70 million in state funding and continue to encourage public-private partnerships to further leverage the state’s investment.

Land O’Lakes, Inc. is a member-owned cooperative with industry-leading operations that span the spectrum from agricultural production to consumer foods, ranking 216 on the Fortune 500. In addition to our iconic Dairy Foods business, we deliver crop inputs and insights through WinField United; animal feed and ingredients through Purina Animal Nutrition; and farmer-led stewardship solutions through Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN. Nearly a century since we were founded by Minnesota dairy farmers in St. Paul, Land O’Lakes remains farmer-owned and has a strong footprint in Minnesota, with 306 farms owned by our dairy members, 102 local farm supply co-op and ag retail members and 329 independent ag producer members, in addition to numerous production facilities and our headquarters located in Arden Hills. We are proud to directly employ more than 2,000 Minnesotans.

Access to high-speed broadband internet in rural Minnesota is a top priority for Land O’Lakes because bridging the digital divide is critically important for Minnesota’s economic future. It is important that all parts of our state have the opportunity to fully participate in today’s global internet-based economy.

Across our cooperative, cutting-edge ag tech and innovation plays an important role in equipping farmers and rural businesses to thrive. When farmers are able to deploy the latest technology to their fields, they are in a stronger position to grow and compete on a global stage – with a focus on productivity, profitability and natural resource stewardship fueled by insights and technology. New technology on the farm can also help farmers and food companies meet growing consumer interest in where food comes from and how it was produced. Much of this technology requires dependable broadband access to properly deploy and utilize.

Off the farm, access to reliable, high-speed broadband is critical to many day-to-day essential services for rural communities: providing patients greater, more affordable access to health care through telemedicine and telepharmacy; giving students, no matter where they live, the opportunity to broaden their horizons through distance learning; assisting workers in acquiring new skills and continuing education to advance their careers; and providing businesses an enhanced platform to market products both domestically and internationally.

A 2018 report by the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband estimated one in five Minnesota rural households are unserved with high-speed broadband, and more than 40 percent are underserved.1 We have seen directly, and heard through our cooperative’s members, the challenges posed by a lack of high-speed broadband internet access and we remain focused on identifying solutions to help address the issue. We recognize that expanding high-speed broadband is a complex issue that carries significant costs – nearly $1.5 billion according to the 2018 Governor’s Task Force report. However, given the economic and quality of life benefits associated with rural broadband, timely state investment is critical.

With your help, I remain encouraged that we can solve this problem. We look forward to working with you, our state’s leaders, to find innovative ways to accelerate the deployment of broadband technology to all corners of Minnesota. If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Matthew Wohlman, Sr. Director of State and Industry Affairs at Land O’Lakes via email at mwohlman@landolakes.com, and he will work together with our leadership team and I to provide any assistance or information that could be helpful as discussion of this important issue moves ahead.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Beth E. Ford President & CEO Land O’Lakes, Inc.

Duluth News Tribune say rural needs broadband to do homework and build small business

Duluth News Tribune outlines the importance of broadband investment in their editorial…

The good news is that since 2014, the state has been investing to push high-speed internet deeper and deeper into rural Minnesota. With a belief that all Minnesotans, no matter where we live, ought to have the same access to opportunities borne of technology, the goal of the Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program has been all-in 100 percent penetration by 2022.

The better news is that since committing to rural broadband, the state’s $85 million investment has resulted in “an admirable 91 (percent) penetration” with Minnesota now “a national model that other states are using to make sure they aren’t left behind,” as Nancy Hoffman of North Branch, Minn., chairwoman of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, wrote in an op-ed last week distributed statewide, including to the News Tribune Opinion page.

The bad news, unfortunately, is that after four straight years of welcomed broadband bills, a state appropriation last year was vetoed along with just about everything else by then-Gov. Mark Dayton. The veto was purely politics, yet another DFLers-vs.-Republicans spat that got in the way of something beneficial to Minnesotans in favor of party wants. Hoffman called it “political crossfire … over issues not related to broadband.”

“The progress needs to continue this year to make up for lost time,” Hoffman wrote.

To that end, the Minnesota House passed off the floor this session a bill containing $70 million over two years, the amount the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition recommended as “exactly how much is necessary to put the program back on track,” as Hoffman wrote. A Senate proposal contains $30 million. Negotiations are underway to find compromise and an appropriate level of funding that will allow Minnesota to reclaim its momentum toward border-to-border broadband.

Squeaky wheel sometimes gets better broadband in Douglas County

Echo Press reports on some successful and not-so-successful attempts to get broadband providers to expand service in and around Douglas County. Starting with success…

Last year, [local resident Dick] Quitmeyer pitched in on a neighborhood effort to bring Runestone Telecom Association’s high-speed fiber optic to the shores of Lake Andrew. As vice president of the Lake Andrew Lake Association, he convinced more than 30 of his neighbors to sign a petition asking the cooperative to bring fiber to their doors.

Competition for prime internet service in Douglas County is at the street level these days, as neighborhoods around Douglas County are organizing to bring high-speed service to their homes and home-based businesses. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s a tactic encouraged by the local telecommunications cooperatives as well as state officials.

Interesting to learn what it meant to Quitmeyer…

he says slow internet speeds bog down his online stock trades enough to cost him up to 30 percent in potential revenue.

Another story of success…

In response to demand from neighborhoods, the rural telecommunications groups are pushing beyond their traditional boundaries to extend premium internet access to nearby communities, especially when internet giants like CenturyLink turn down local requests.

When a handful of organizers knocked on doors near Holmes City, they gathered about 200 households that wanted service, and Runestone agreed to deliver. It won a Border to Border grant and now provides high-speed internet there as well as to Blackwell Lake, both within CenturyLink’s service area.

And a story of the not-to-successful…

At least one neighborhood in Douglas County, the Bluffs Road NW loop near Lake Carlos, has met with defeat time and again after trying to convince CenturyLink to upgrade their internet service, two neighbors said.

Kevin Rankl, an applications engineer who works from home, said every few months, neighbors along their loop call the Louisiana-based company to ask for better service.

Rochelle Telander, who lives down the road from Rankl, said that when her son streams Netflix, nobody can do anything else online. Plus, when their internet access goes down, their TVs don’t work either, she said. She last called CenturyLink about four months ago, she said.

“They tell us this is the best we can get,” Telander said. “Nobody has really gotten anywhere. We’d all like better access because it’s really stinky out here.”

CenturyLink confirmed to the Echo Press that while it has brought more than 60,000 Minnesota households online since 2016, including some locally, it has no immediate plans to expand in Douglas County.

And a suggestion for anyone who has not been successful…

Neighborhoods whose internet providers say no to future upgrades need to change tactics, said Danna MacKenzie, executive director of Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development. They might have better success contacting her office instead. In the past, the state has connected nearby providers with neighborhoods, she said.

MacKenzie said the state’s Border to Border program is designed to be responsive to those who ask for service.

AgriNews says “budget bill gives priority to value-added agriculture opportunities … rural broadband expansion”

AgriNews reports on the latest with broadband in MN Legislative session…

The omnibus budget bill that is being debated in the Senate and House is of special interest. The package — a smorgasbord for rural Minnesota — has great potential for farmers and communities. The budget bill gives priority to value-added agriculture opportunities for farmers and stresses rural broadband expansion.

“This legislation focuses on repurposing existing resources to directly impact the bottom line of Minnesota farm families,’’ said Torrey Westrom, chairman of the Senate’s Agriculture, Rural Development and Housing Development Committee.

They get into some of the specifics (although I’ve doubled checked and I’m not sure where $50 million is coming from – Senate is still at $30M while House and Governor are at $70M)…

The legislation also offers to increase funding to the state’s border-to-border broadband program to $50 million. Broadband development, which often flies beneath the radar in terms of priorities, continues to have the potential to influence the lives of rural Minnesotans for decades to come.