MN Senate Jobs & Economic Growth – Broadband Update March 5

Today the Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy met; they heard from the Office of Broadband Development, Minnesota Broadband Task Force and Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition. Below are video and notes from the sessions…

Monday, March 5, 2018 – 01:00 PM
Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy
Chair: Sen. Jeremy R. Miller
Room 1150 Minnesota Senate Bldg.
Agenda: Update on Broadband

Danna Mackenzie (Office of Broadband Development) on the broadband update:

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Question: Sen Goggin

I live in an underserved areas – are you looking at the difference between what customers are billed versus the speeds we get?
Right now we gather stories but broadband is not regulated. We use our mapping tools to see if any of the federal funding is meant to come into the area. The FCC is also working on a tool that will track federally funding improvements.

Are there tools that residents can use?
Not currently. It’s what we’re tracking what’s happening with the FCC. California is also working on a tool.

Question – Sen Simonson
In the past we’ve talked about wireless. Will wireless be able to meet 100/100 goal?
Yes – wireless technology will get there at some point for some situations. MN has a lot of different topography/topology et al. So wireless may not work everywhere. Types of wireless have different characteristics – for example it can’t always go through leaves.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher (MN Broadband Task Force and MN High Tech Association)

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Question –  Sen Goggin

Workforce availability –Has there been talk about getting trained people in rural Minnesota to help get this done?
There are two barriers: supply side issue of components needs to deploy (fiber for example) and skilled labor. We haven’t heard as much about problems getting labor force. We are seeing some of this in any technical area where we have close to zero unemployment

Question – Sen Simonson

Let’s talk about math – the estimate we have here ($71 million) assumes that there’s a willing partner in each area without a partner willing to match 50 percent. How can we address that?
This is rough math. We had several people in the room. There are some areas that will be much more expensive to reach. We have to think about the highest cost areas. We may need to look at wireless options – but even for wireless you need a fiber backbone. There are private solutions that are emerging.

Nancy Hoffman (MN Rural Broadband Coalition)

Thanks for the efforts for the MN Broadband Grants. There are many members in the Broadband Coalition. Funding the grant is important to the coalition because broadband is important to rural areas. We request that the legislature fund the grants at $51.48 million. There is difficulty for the communities when the funding is precarious – it means people have to shuffle quickly to complete applications in with little notice.

In Chisago we got a grant to work with CenturyLink. Households report that they are paying half their monthly broadband bills, which makes up for the bonding they pay back in taxes. It worked so well we were able to do a similar deal with Fish Lake Township. If we had more advance warning, we could work with more communities. We now have 1.5 communities served; we just need 7.5 more done!

Rep Garofalo introduces changes to MN broadband grant program – removes “unserved” from grant program language

On Thursday (Feb 22), Representative Garofalo introduced

  1. F. No. 3002, A bill for an act relating to broadband; modifying eligibility for the border-to-border broadband grant program; amending Minnesota Statutes 2016, sections 116J.39, subdivision 4; 116J.394; 116J.395, subdivisions 1, 5, 6. The bill was read for the first time and referred to the Committee on Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance.

You can see the proposed changes online; it impacts the eligibility for the border-to-border broadband grant program.

Here are the proposed changes:

Remove “unserved areas” from the definition by removing the following:

(start line 3.15) (i) “Unserved areas” means areas of Minnesota in which households or businesses lack 
access to wire-line broadband service, as defined in section 116J.39.

And remove the term/idea from the following (I’ll make the deleted terms bold below):

(start line 3.19) A grant program is established under the Department of
Employment and Economic Development to award grants to eligible applicants in order to
promote the expansion of access to broadband service in unserved or underserved areas of
the state.


(start line 3.25) An applicant for a grant under this section shall provide
the following information on the application:

(1) the location of the project;

(2) the kind and amount of broadband infrastructure to be purchased for the project;

(3) evidence regarding the unserved or underserved nature of the community in which
the project is to be located;


(start line 4.18) Subd. 6.

Awarding grants.

(a) In evaluating applications and awarding grants, the
commissioner shall give priority to applications that are constructed in areas identified by
the director of the Office of Broadband Development as unserved.

Added at 2 pm:

Gulp – I just realized I missed one change:
(starting line 3.12) In the definition second of Underserved – “wireline” is removed:
“Underserved areas” means areas of Minnesota in which households or businesses
lack access to wire-line broadband service at speeds of at least 100 megabits per second
download and at least 20 megabits per second upload.

That is important too. The MN Broadband Task Force has been hearing from wireless providers lately.

MN Broadband Task Force Meeting notes: superbowl technology and talk about lowering definition of broadband

The Task Force learned about the ins and outs of the communication technology around the Superbowl. They also heard from a fixed wireless provider. It led to some interesting discussions about the definition of broadband. The fixed wireless provider thought that 25/3 (which is the state goal for broadband by 2022) was too steep a climb because he had customers that were satisfied with lower speeds. That led to other people discussing the definition.

It was an interesting juxtaposition to hear about the huge investments, the 7.2 terabytes of data transferred, and awesome speeds experienced downtown Minneapolis during the Superbowl and the push to lower the definition of broadband in rural areas so that we could get people lower speeds more quickly. Some folks seemed to recognize that would lead to tiered services based on location. And having spent time in the field recently, I have heard folks in rural areas say they want faster speeds because they want to run businesses, do homework and access telehealth options. That is why the Task Force recommended and the legislature put into place state speed goals of 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026.

The Task Force also talked about plans for the final report, considering the role of a future Task Force and how to capture the attention of legislators.

Notes from the day: Continue reading

Mille Lacs unhappy about not getting broadband grant

The Pine and Lakes Echo Journal reports on Mille Lacs not getting a broadband grant…

The denial of a state grant to partially fund a countywide wireless network in Mille Lacs County has officials frustrated, the Mille Lacs Messenger reported. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development did not select the county’s application for broadband funding.

This rejection comes after a year’s worth of studies and public outreach, and county officials said they believed their project received less consideration than some that would impact 100 or fewer residents. The Mille Lacs County project would serve approximately 26,000 residents.

A consulting firm working with the county on the project intends to request information from the state concerning grant selection criteria.

The article captures the frustration that all of the communities that don’t get funding must feel – because applying for broadband funding is an undertaking as the article points out. Many communities will do a feasibility study, public outreach, partnership development and even some engineering planning before applying for funding. Many are good projects but there just isn’t enough funding to meet the need. The difficult thing about the effort is that without ongoing grants, if your community isn’t selected, you don’t know if you’ll get a chance to try again and even if you do, you’ll probably need to update the research and application.

The Minnesota Broadband Task Force has recommended ongoing funding for grants – that would ease some of the frustration I’m sure.

Minnesota Broadband Task Force Report – what Minneapolis Star Tribune and Mankato Free Press are saying

Yesterday I posted about the latest Minnesota Broadband Task Force report. Today I’m reading about it in various publications. Here’s what people are saying…

Minneapolis Star Tribune – Minnesota task force says $35.7 million needed annually to expand broadband

Minnesota spent tens of millions of dollars expanding high-speed broadband internet in recent years, but nearly $1.4 billion in public and private investment is still needed to get access to all households, according to a state task force report. …

The task force’s goal is to connect all of those households by 2022. The $1.4 billion price tag to meet that goal would be covered by a variety of sources, including federal, state and local funding and private companies.

In November, state officials forecast a $188 million budget deficit over the next year and a half. Given that outlook, the task force’s financial request “is a little daunting,” said Kelliher, a DFLer who once served as speaker of the Minnesota House and now is president and CEO of the Minnesota High Tech Association.

The report is a good conversation starter, said Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls. The next state revenue and expenditure forecast in February will help determine what’s affordable, he said.

“That being said, I think they’re on the right path,” Kresha said of the task force. “Certainly we don’t want to stop the great work we’ve done for rural broadband. And if there [are] any opportunities to continue to expand efforts — whether that’s through policy, funding or innovation — we should do it.”

Mankato Free Press – Broadband Task Force renews push for high-speed access

Bill Otis, president of New Ulm-based NU-Telecom, said rural phone companies like his rely on federal and state grants to help build costly fiber networks.

“We’ve made progress (in adding fiber) but it’s slow without some of the grants. We’ve been involved in grants that allow us to build out to areas that would be economically unreasonable without the grants. And even with the grants, it’s sometimes questionable economically. Getting the fiber out to some of these more remote rural areas can be tough,” Otis said. …

But Otis said those minimum speeds are relatively slow for the growing demands on the internet. “You’d like to say everyone should have 100 (megabits) down and 20 up. And to be perfect you’d have 100 by 100.”

He said that when putting in new lines, having the minimum 25-3 megabit is “underusing your fiber.”

And the demand for more speed is only going to grow as more video content, self-driving vehicles, smart cars, enhanced 911 systems, smart homes and other technology all vie for internet and fiber optic space.

“The projections are for unbelievable, exponential growth in the next five to 10 years,” Otis said.

MN Broadband Task Force recommendations $70 million to meet speed goals (100 Mbps down and 20 up by 2026)

The Minnesota Broadband Task Force has released their annual report. It’s an abbreviated version of usual report as they are gearing up for next year’s report, which unless something changes will be the last.

Here’s the quick take on the status of broadband in Minnesota…

As reported by Connected Nation in October 2017, 88.11 percent of Minnesota households have wireline broadband access available at a speed of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload (25 Mbps/3 Mbps), while 73.45 percent of rural Minnesota households have a wired broadband connection that meets these speeds. Nearly 70 percent (70.04 percent) of Minnesota households have wireline speeds of 100 Mbps/20 Mbps. In rural areas of Minnesota, 52.88 percent of households have access to these speeds. As Minnesota strives to meet its updated broadband speed goals, much work remains.

Their recommendations…

This report contains two recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature:

  • Provide $71.48 million in on-going biennial funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, until the state achieves its broadband speed goals.
  • Provide the Office of Broadband Development with $500,000 on-going biennial funding and maintain the existing partnership with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, until the state achieves its broadband speed goals.

I want to highlight the first recommendation because the recommendation in the report itself is different from what is in the press release. Here’s the recommendation as stated in the press release:

  • Provide $71.48 million in on-going biennial funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, until the state achieves its broadband goals. This funding amount, which accounts for federal funding through the FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF II) and the FCC’s Alternative-Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM), would provide service to the 252,000 Minnesota households that currently lack Internet service at the state’s speed goals of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and minimum upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps.

The big difference is that the press release only alludes to the 25/3 speed goals (with a goal date of 2022). The state also has a speed goal of 100/20 by 2026. The state funding has required networks to be scalable to higher speeds; the federal funding does not.

Here’s the text from the statute:

It is a state goal that (1) no later than 2022, all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of at least three megabits per second; and (2) no later than 2026, all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to at least one provider of broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second.

The difference is a big one – especially since the future of the Task Force is uncertain. The statute leaves room for 25/3 being a stepping stone, not a resting place for broadband speeds.

And a look at state versus rural status…

Minnesota Broadband Task Force – final edit of annual report

The Task Force met today to do the final edit of their MN Broadband Task Force report. I have notes on the specifics below. It helps to follow along with the penultimate draft (Part 1 & Part 2). The focus remains on getting ongoing funding for the Office of Broadband Development and for the Broadband grants – until the state speed goals are met.

Here are their recommendations:

  • Provide $71.482 million in ongoing biennial funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, until the state achieves its broadband speed goal.
  • Provide the OBD with funding at $250,000 per year in ongoing funding, until the state achieves its broadband speed goal.

The next step is making the changes discussed and moving this toward getting published.

Continue reading