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.

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.

Broadband in Legislature on Monday: Conference Committee on S.F. 2226 meets at 11am

Earlier this week, I attended a Conference Committee on S.F. 2226, Agriculture, Housing and Rural Development. They took testimony, including brief words from Office of Broadband Development Director, Danna Mackenzie. Here are the notes on took on her presentation:

  • Broadband is as important as electricity and phone for homes & businesses
  • The MN Broadband task force recommended $70 million per biennium – and that is only a portion of what we need. They rest will be matched by providers and communities.
  • There will be an opportunity lost cost if we get only $35 million; communities will fall farther behind.

I livestreamed the session – but ironically have been unable to download it from Facebook in two days of trying! You can find it on Facebook. Danna starts at 1:23. The noteworthy thing is that the legislators asked questions about housing for almost 90 minutes before Danna spoke – and plenty of questions for the next speaker. Danna was on for less than 10 minutes. I can’t say whether it’s a good sign or a bad sign but I think it’s a sign that the request for broadband is straightforward and I think that helps build a case for a topic that can inherently be complex.

The Committee met again yesterday and I was unfortunately not able to attend and as if now there are no notes, video or audio online. BUT I wanted to let folks know that the Committee will meet again on Monday at 11 am. This close to the end of session, the times can get moved, with little to no notice. I plan/hope to attend and will livestream and take notes if I can. If you are interested in attending, keep an eye on the MN Leg Calendar for updates.

MN Senate committee passes omnibus budget bill with $30 million for broadband

The Grand Forks Herald reports…

The comprehensive omnibus budget bill places an emphasis on rural broadband expansion, invests in affordable manufactured/modular housing and home ownership, and prioritizes value-added agriculture opportunities that directly impact farmers.

Unfortunately the Senate is proposing $30 million for broadband; the House and Governor have each proposed $70 million – although neither amount has been set yet….

The bill also funds the Minnesota “border-to-border” rural broadband expansion program at $30 million, a significant increase in the legislature’s appropriation over the last biennium.

“From health care, to education, to small businesses, broadband access is essential to our way of life in the twenty-first century,” added Westrom. “I consistently hear from rural community members that a lack of broadband limits their ability to flourish in Greater Minnesota, much like a lack of electricity did 75 years ago. This significant investment addresses this issue head-on.”

DEED’s Take on Governor Walz’s MN Broadband Budget

DEED (Department of Employment and Economic Development) reports…

The Governor is requesting $35 million in FY 2020 and $35 million in FY 2021 for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program. This funding commitment will build on several years of public and private investments in broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas of Minnesota. The state will work to meet the statutory goal of border-to-border access of 25Mbps/3Mbps broadband service and begin to pave the way for achieving the state’s 2026 goal of reaching everyone with a service capable of delivering 100Mbps/20Mbps.

They details the results of the grant program to date…

Since 2014, the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program has invested $85.6 million to expand broadband access in communities across Minnesota. Those efforts have helped connect more than 39,000 households, businesses and community institutions to high-speed internet – leveraging $110.6 million in private and local matching funds.

In 2018 the Office of Broadband Development launched a benchmarking tool that will allow Minnesotans to test, map and report various broadband internet speeds across the state. CheckSpeedMinnesota.com is designed to gather information about the high-speed internet consumer experience. By answering a few questions and running a speed test, the input captured will help create a better overall picture of broadband service.