Fast Company looks at MN Broadband Grants

The Pew Research report on How State are Expanding Broadband Access has garnered a lot of attention lately for the report and the states they pull out as leaders, including Minnesota. I haven’t tracked all mentions of the report but Fast Company took a closer look at the MN Broadband grants…

Take the case of Minnesota, which has a goal of “border-to-border broadband” with download speeds of 25 megabits per second and uploads of 3 Mbps (the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of broadband) by 2022 and 100/20 Mbps statewide by 2026.

So far, the state has invested $85.2 million in public funding—2019’s recipients include rural telephone companies and electric utilities, tribal governments as well as big-name telcos like CenturyLink and Charter—to leverage another $110.6 million in spending to get 34,000-plus households and 5,200 businesses online.

As a result, the report says, the share of Minnesota households with 25/3 Mbps broadband has gone from 86% in 2015 to 91%. And the share with 100/20 Mbps access has almost doubled, zooming from 39% in 2015 to 74%.

The report doesn’t address how many of those households got online without the help of those subsidies, but notes that the state allows internet providers to challenge any of the grants “by demonstrating that they provide service or have begun construction on broadband infrastructure at speeds equal to or greater than the proposed project.”

The catch: Before they do that, they have to provide a detailed map of their service area, making the state a little smarter for the next round of grants.

MN House Committee meets to discuss broadband bill HF3029

Yesterday the Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division met to discussion HF3029. Unfortunately I was at another meeting and could attend but there is an audio archive. (Download Mp3)

Here are notes from the meeting:

HF3029 (Ecklund) – Broadband development grant program annual statutory appropriation provided, and money appropriated.
The meeting started with Rep Ecklund introducing the bill explain that the extra funds would help Minnesota get on track to making the Minnesota state speed goals by 2022.
They talked about this money being ongoing funds – not a one-time appropriation, which is different from last year. Representatives wondered how long it
They hear from:
Angie Dickison and Diane Wells spoke and their presentation was similar to what they talked about at an earlier Senate Committee. There were questions/comments:
  • How are the grants dispersed in terms of unserved/underserved areas?
    The grants can go to underserves areas. There are a number of criteria that go into scoring the applications.
  • How long will it take to get to ubiquitous coverage?
    The Task Force is looking at that issue. Their last report lead to the proposed funding.
  • How will you serve the very sparse areas and economically distressed areas?
    We will likely have to look at less than 50 percent match requirement.
  • The phone companies decide on the networks. They won’t pay for a network that won’t make money. If we help some companies and not others the others will be mad. We need a national roll out – like Nebraska.
  • Can wireless help?
    Yes. We are agnostic to technology type so long as the technology will scale to 100/100 speeds required.
  • How big a problem is gopher chewing on fiber?
    It’s an issue.

Bill Eckles, BEVCOMM

Working on getting all customers on FTTH in the next 9 years. They have received 12 grants for projects totally $9.5 million; grants have covered just less than half of that cost. On criticism of the grants is that it has been a year to year grant, which makes it hard to plan. We won’t need help forever but we need help to reach some areas.

Terry Nelson, Woodstock Communications

Have received several grants most for fiber but one for a fiber-wireless hybrid. One grant application this year was denied because of the challenge project.

  • Can consumers afford Gig access?
    Most gig customers are businesses.
  • Do we use taxpayer money to pay for business speeds?

Vince Robinson, Lincoln County Development Enterprises & MN Broadband Coalition

Representing more than 90 organizations all of walks of life. They support $30 million ongoing for broadband.

  • Are we leaving places orphaned that will be very expensive to serve?
    Yes. The program isn’t perfect but it’s very good. Right now we have a great demand for the program but there are areas that will be extremely difficult to serve and we may need to look at less than 50 percent match.
  • Will wireless help us reach areas?
    We are seeing technologies improve maybe in the future they will be able to help. Right now line of sight can be a problem in using wireless in some areas.

Mark Thell, Farmer’s Union in Carlton County

We have CenturyLink. Our local network helps us use video to see what’s happening on parts of the farm but right now we don’t have sufficient broadband to do precision ag.

Dan Larson, MN Rural Counties

His presentation was similar to what he talked about at an earlier Senate Committee. If we want to really reach the broadband goal, we should move the grants funds into the base budget of the Office of Broadband Development.

Brent Christensen, MTA

His presentation was similar to what he talked about at an earlier Senate Committee. Thank for passing Telecommuter Forward. There are 20 communities that have applied for Telecommuter Forward support.

We’re going to need to figure out whether this is for base funding.

Bill held until they get a budget target.

Job Posting: Broadband Grants Administrator Job for MN Office of Broadband Development

There is an opening at the MN Office of Broadband Development. Great job for the right person…

The purpose of this position is to develop, promote, implement, provide technical assistance for, evaluate and report on state and/or federally funded financing programs of the Office of Broadband Development.  The Office develops and administers programs designed to achieve high quality broadband access for all Minnesotans and to support and promote the skills necessary to adopt and use broadband tools for economic, educational, health, and institutional benefits.  Programs administered include the following:

1)  Border-to-Border Infrastructure Grant program which provides state financing for DEED approved broadband infrastructure expansion projects;

2)  Supporting and maximizing Minnesota entities participation in federally-funded broadband infrastructure programs.

3)  Digital literacy, broadband adoption and use programs.

Learn more

Broadband at Senate Committee on Ag, Rural Dev, and Housing Finance Notes & Video

Today the MN Senate Committee on Ag, Rural Development, and Housing Finance heard about broadband. The Committee heard from Angie Dickison and Diane Wells from the Office of Broadband Development on the details of the Office, the grants and progress toward the state broadband speeds for 2022 and 2026. Then Senator Draheim introduced HF3049, recommending one time $30 million additional funds for the broadband grant program.

Finally the Committee heard  from Jane Leonard, Dan Larson and Brent Christensen in supportive of the bill. NO one voices any concerns and the bill way laid over for possible conclusion in the omnibus.

The video also include Senator Westrom on the Rural Finance Authority.

Broadband Overview from Minnesota Office of Broadband Development

– Angie Dickison, Broadband Development Manager
– Diane Wells, Telecommunications Manager

Here is the 4 element approach to the #MNBroadband model:

  • Statutory goals
  • Data (mapping program)
  • Broadband Office & Task Force
  • Grants

The Office of Development does more than grants. They coordinate and number of efforts to expand broadband.

Broadband mapping: We have snapshots of where we stand today. We can see improvement toward the 2022 speed goals. We can also see counties that need more progress – where less than 50 percent of households have access to 25/3. We also see the maps for 2026 – we have some counties that are there, more are not.

496 citi es where 25 percent of more have fiber.
62 cities with more than 50 percent lacking access to 25/ 3

How does federal funding impact state funding? We have a map of these areas. We have had some projects that have combined funds to bring higher speeds to those federal funded areas.

Senator Draheim: introduces: S.F. 3049: Broadband development grant program annual statutory appropriation establishment.

Asking for additional resources ($30 million) from general fund to supplement the #mnbroadbnad grant. Businesses, farmers, telehealth and online entertainment need better broadband to reach the 9 percent unserved areas.

Jane Leonard speaking for MN Broadband Coalition:
Thanks to everyone for their interest and attention. I’ve worked with broadband since out aim for a 56k in each community. More recently have worked with the Office of Broadband Development. Investment in broadband will touch every sector. IN 2018, the broadband Task Force recommended $70M per biennium – this increase of $30M will get us there.

Dan Larson for Rural Counties:
Here to support SF3049 and thank the Legislature for supporting it. Broadband is essential for rural communities

Brent Christensen MN Telecom Alliance:
If this bill passes and is signed into law, it does not mean we’re done but it gets us closer. We won’t need support forever, but we will need it for a while. The last people getting broadband will be the most expensive. We have 5 years of evidence indicating that this program works.

Laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus

MN Broadband Task Force Jan 2020: supporting a $30 million request from Legislature

The full notes and video are below. I think a highlight from the meet was the presentation from the Minnesota Broadband Coalition. They have asked the Task Force to send a letter to the Legislature supporting their recommendation for $30 million from the supplemental budget for more grants.

Also the Task Force formed three subgroups:

  • MN Model
  • Barrier to Technology
  • Economic Development and Digital Inclusion

Continue reading

MN Broadband Task Force Meeting December 10

The first meeting of the new Broadband Task Force is scheduled for December 10…

December 10

10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
James J. Hill Conference Room
332 Minnesota Street, Suite E-200
St. Paul, MN 55101-1351

10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

  • 10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.  Welcome by DEED Commissioner Steve Grove
  • 10:15 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Introductions and Reasons for Being on the Taskforce
    • Teddy Bekele, Chair and Task Force Members
  • 11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Overview of MN Government; Basics of the Legislature
    • Darielle Dannen; Govt. Relations Director, DEED
  • Overview of the Office of Broadband Development
    • Diane Wells, Telecommunications Mgr., OBD
  • Overview of Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program
    • Angie Dickison, Broadband Development Mgr., OBD
  • Open Meeting Law and Data Practices Act
    • Diane Wells, Telecommunications Mgr., OBD
  • 12:15 p.m. – 12:45 p.m. Lunch
  • 12:45 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. Overview of Reports from Previous Task Forces
    • Diane Wells, Telecommunications Mgr., OBD
  • 1:15 p.m. – 1:40 p.m. Role and Goals for this Task Force
    • Task Force Members
  • 1:40 p.m. – 1:50 p.m. Future Meetings Discussion
    • Task Force Members
  • 1:50 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.  Other Business

Changes at the MN Office of Broadband Development

People around the US, well people who care about broadband, are talking about the Minnesota Model – speed goals, State support and a grant program that works as well as the Border to Border grants. The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) has been instrumental at making that work.

So we’re a little sad for us, but happy for the director, Danna Mackenzie to see that she is taking a break with an extended leave of absence. She has worked long, hard hours perfecting the Minnesota model.

She’s leaving the work with a solid team of Diane Wells and Cathy Clucas. Both are experts in the field and Diane really been with the OBD longer than it has even existed. (She had worked on telecom for the state for a long time.)

They have recently been joined by Angie Dickison, formerly of the Wisconsin broadband office and formerly formerly a Blandin Broadband Community leader.

Final note from the OBD, a reminder about the upcoming grant deadlines – The first of two grant rounds to distribute those funds has opened and the applications are due September 13th.