MN Broadband funding needs to be in base budget

KXRA’s Voice of Alexandria reports…

Advocates are asking state lawmakers for 35 million dollars a year to expand broadband Internet access in rural Minnesota.

Bills have already been introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate. Judy Erickson with the Rural Broadband Coalition says it needs to be in the base budget instead of one-time money like in the past. Erickson said, “It’s difficult to plan a large project if you don’t know if there’ll be money next year.” The 20 million dollars appropriated last year was in a budget bill vetoed by then-Governor Mark Dayton over disagreements with the Republican-controlled legislature.

Rep Ecklund introduces broadband bill in MN

Mesabi Daily News reports…

Broadband connectivity has plagued rural areas and the Iron Range for a number of legislative sessions, even as technology use has increased tenfold in education, business and health care, to name a few industries.

State Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-International Falls, hopes to change that. He unveiled a bill Wednesday to expand high-speed broadband in Minnesota through a two-year $70 million investment. The bill was part of the “Minnesota Values” agenda released by House Democrats pm Wednesday and based on a plan developed by the caucus in September.

“Broadband is more important today than ever before and will play an increasingly important role in the lives of Minnesotans for decades to come,” Ecklund said in a news conference. “While significant progress has been made, we still have work to do to make sure all Minnesotans have access to high-speed connections.”

His House 3A district, which includes International Falls and Ely, are among the most remote in northeastern Minnesota and lagging behind in connectivity. As a whole, rural areas are vastly underserved by high-speed broadband, according to a 2018 report by the Minnesota Broadband Taskforce.

In that report, the taskforce said just 79 percent of people have access to speeds of 25Mbps down and 2 Mbps up in rural Minnesota, compared to 91 percent statewide. The state’s goal of 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up reaches just 49 percent of rural Minnesotans.

Ecklund is proposing to fund the connectivity upgrade through the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which is a competitive program providing matching grants for internet providers to expand access across the state.

“Expanding broadband expands educational opportunities through programs like distance learning, enables our great Minnesota businesses to compete in today’s global economy, and helps people stay in touch with health care providers to receive care and monitor their health conditions,” Ecklund added. “Future technologies will rely on high-speed connections as well.”

Since 2014, according to the House DFl, the state has funded $85.2 million and used $110.6 million in investments to better broadband across more than 34,000 homes, 5,000 business and 300 community institutions.

The bill was part of 10 unveiled Wednesday by House DFL leaders, including a proposal to let all residents buy into the MinnnesotaCare health program, which is currently reserved for the working poor.

Final Meeting of Gov Dayton’s MN Broadband Task Force

Today was the last meeting of third iteration of the MN Broadband Task Force. The first Task Force (under Gov Pawlenty) had the onerous task of creating something from nothing. They came back with recommendation to create legislation that would set a goal for broadband connectivity and the means of measure it. This latest iteration upgraded those speed goals and encouraged the institution of both the Office of Broadband Development and Minnesota Broadband grant program. The Task Force does not work in a vacuum, we have some dedicated providers, engaged legislators and the Blandin Foundation who have kept the broadband fires burning but the the Task Force has been in instrumental creating what people are calling the Minnesota Model for how to be broadband right.

At the meeting there was clearly momentum to continue to down the path for better broadband and continue with a new Task Force for the new Administration. There was much praise of Danna Mackenzie and Diane Wells at the Office of Broadband Development. And there was a focus on the 2022 goals of ubiquitous broadband coverage at speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. And while that goal is clearly breathing down our neck, the 2026 goals of 100/200 are already nipping at our heels too.

During the meeting the State surplus of $1.5 billion was announced – at another meeting. It would be nice to see some of that go into broadband. The Task Force was sketching out a three-year plan to cost of $70 million per biennium to meet half of the need (assuming 50 percent match from private or local funders) to get to the 2022 goals. It would be awesome to see us leapfrog those goals and dive straight into our future with an eye on 2026 goals!

 

Join a roundtable discussion with the Office of Broadband Development

I was fleshing out events to add to the Broadband Calendar and got a little help from my friends at the MN Office of Broadband Development. They have three roundtable discussions planned in the next few months. I wanted to get the word out in case you were on the fence about attending any of these events. ALSO in case you have a colleague or neighbor who is likely to attend the conference and might attend this session if you encouraged them to learn more about broadband…

  • Broadband and Townships – Roundtable discussion on broadband at MN Association of Township’s 2018 Education Conference – Friday, November 16th, Duluth, DECC  – 1:15 – 3:30pm
  • Broadband and School districts – Roundtable discussion on broadband at MN School Board Association’s 2019 Leadership Conference – Thursday, January 17th, 2019 , Minneapolis, Minneapolis Convention Center –  1:30 – 3:00pm
  • Broadband and Counties – Breakout session on broadband at Association of Minnesota Counties’ 2019 Legislative Conference Feb 13-14 – Date and time TBD.

Otter Tail County assesses their broadband future

The Fergus Falls Journal reports on broadband access in the area…

Fortunately for Otter Tail County, there are people who are paying attention to the issue. [Rep Bud} Nornes said, “For the state, people might be surprised to know that we have invested about half a billion in broadband.” Much of this funding has been from grants, particularly at the local level.

Grant Funding

One of the primary grants that has made an impacted Otter Tail County is the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program. This program “funds the expansion of broadband service to areas of Minnesota that are unserved or underserved,” according to the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development. In 2017, $20 million in funds included from the Legislature was used for the grant program.

Multiple areas in OTC fell under the requirements of the grant. “There is a large chunk of OTC that is underserved or has no availability of fiber,” Wayne Johnson, chair of the OTC Board of Commissioners said. After conducting a broadband feasibility study, it was determined that $380 million would be needed to reach all of OTC with proper internet. It became clear that utilizing grants, such as the Border-to-Border program would be necessary.

Over the past three years, multiple areas of OTC have benefited from the grant program. These areas include Pelican Rapids, Fergus Falls, Battle Lake, Wadena and other surrounding areas. A number of telecommunication businesses in the county received the grants such as Otter Tail Telcom LLC and Arvig.

Local Providers

Two of the largest contributors in getting internet access to OTC, also known as “bringing fiber to the door,” are Park Region/Otter Tail Telcom LLC and Arvig. “Arvig and Park Region Otter Tail Telcom have been awesome,” Johnson said. “Both of them have been outstanding to work with on this.”

Companies who provide broadband typically work within areas called exchanges. “Exchanges are essentially who historically has received some type of subsidy for providing telephone or other telecommunication services,” Nicholas Leonard, director of Tourism and Economic Development for OTC, said. However, “Just because it is somebody’s exchange doesn’t mean that somebody else can’t provide service there,” Leonard said.

Arvig

Arvig’s marketing director, Lisa Greene, said Arvig has “invested more than $10 million since 2016 in network upgrades and rural expansion projects.” The company provides broadband services to over 70 percent of OTC. Arvig has also received funding from the Alternative-Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM), as well as the Minnesota Broadband Grant.

Houses have more devices in them now. “Our customer research shows an average of seven devices per household, all competing for the available bandwidth,” Green said. “A lot of what we’ve done to date is to accommodate the bandwidth needs of the increasing number of devices per household.”

She added that the perception has also changed in terms of what people are looking for. “People no longer think of having internet service, they think of having WiFi service,” Greene said. Arvig incorporated a managed WiFi solution that assists customers in having, “the right equipment in place throughout the home/business to maximize coverage throughout the building and help them make the most of their connection.”

Park Region/Otter Tail Telcom LLC

Dave Bickett, GM/CEO of Park Region Telephone/Otter Tail Telcom said that the companies are investing $3-3.5 million every year toward bringing fiber to the door. Specifically, “In 2017, Park Region built fiber to the home in our Vining exchange and are currently building the north half of our Ashby exchange,” Bickett said. “Next year Park Region is slated to complete South Ashby. Other sporadic areas also have fiber to the home available today.”

Meanwhile, “Otter Tail Telcom built fiber to the home on Clay Bank Road, South Wall Lake, Northeast Clitherall Lake, and North Fiske Lake in 2017,” Bickett said. “In 2018 we also built fiber to the home to Red Oak Drive.” The work done by Otter Tail Telcom in these areas was funded by the Minnesota Broadband Grant Program. Rothsay has also seen work done by these companies and Bickett said the rural areas of Rothsay have been completed.

DEED Launches Tool to Measure, Report Broadband Access

From DEED – please check it out, help them get the speeds right across the state!

ST PAUL – The Minnesota Office of Broadband Development, located within the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), today launched a new tool that will allow Minnesotans to test, map and report various broadband internet speeds across the state.

CheckSpeedMinnesota.com is a benchmarking tool designed to gather information about the high-speed internet consumer experience in Minnesota. By answering a few questions and running a speed test, the input captured will help create a better overall picture of broadband in the state.

“The Minnesota Office of Broadband Development is charged by law with measuring and monitoring broadband internet access levels throughout the state,” said DEED Commissioner Shawntera Hardy. “This tool will increase our understanding of the consumer experience to ensure we are making smart investments. We urge the public to report on the type and speed of internet they are buying for their homes and businesses.”

“As high-speed internet service plays an increasingly important role in all aspects of maintaining economically and socially healthy communities, CheckSpeedMinnesota.com can help identify where the state has robust and competitive service available and also areas where consumers believe more attention may be required to meet the needs of Minnesota both today and into the future,” said Danna MacKenzie, executive director of the Office of Broadband Development.

The maps generated by the tool will be displayed for the public as well as incorporated into information that is provided annually to the governor and legislature.

All internet speed test results vary due to factors including time of day, number of devices connected and bandwidth consumed during a test. These factors will be taken into consideration when analyzing results.

DEED is the state’s principal economic development agency, promoting business recruitment, expansion and retention, workforce development, international trade and community development. For more details about the agency and its services, visit the DEED website or follow us on Twitter .

Nebraska is looking at Minnesota’s broadband maps

The Public News Service (in Nebraska) is talking about rural broadband and the need to better track rural broadband. They  lift up Minnesota as a state that is making some strides in the right direction…

He points to policies adopted by Minnesota to ensure all residents are covered from border to border, largely relying on public-private partnerships.
Hladik says those efforts, which involve more accurate maps, show that multiple stakeholders working together can ensure coverage when profit margins are too slim for the private sector to get the job done.
“We can’t sit back and expect the state government to solve this for us,” he stresses. “It also can’t be only the provider.
“Frankly, the cost incentive is not there for the provider to extend service to every household in Minnesota or every household in Nebraska.”
Hladik says mapping is likely to be a prominent issue in the next legislative session, and he expects to see a measure introduced to help Nebraska get a better picture of the barriers to expanding broadband access to all of its residents.