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.

Office of Broadband Development Program Call for Border to Border Broadband Grant Applications

I wish I had a drum roll. Good luck to everyone!

The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) unit is soliciting applications for the Border to Border Broadband grant funding of broadband projects.

Submission Deadlines and Requirements

The deadline for the applications is 4 p.m., on Friday, September 13.

Application proposals must be mailed or delivered to:
Office of Broadband Development MN Department of Employment and Economic Development
First National Bank Building
332 Minnesota Street – Suite E200
St. Paul, MN 55101-1351

Application submittals must include three full sets of paper copies, and one additional electronic set in Microsoft Word format on a USB drive. They must be received by the deadline to be considered for funding.

Contact Information

For questions regarding this application process, please contact OBD Staff at 651-259-7610 or deed.broadband@state.mn.us

MN Broadband County Maps: Data, Ranking and comparing for 25/3 speeds

The Office of Broadband Development maps and county data are out! I am looking a percentage covered at various speeds, comparing 100/20 rates and ranking and (here) comparing county speeds and ranking for 25/3 speeds. I’m doing this in three posts because the I think the data is valuable but best in small bites.

The MN State broadband speed goals are 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up by 2002 and 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps by 2026. The 2022 goal ought to be a benchmark toward the 2026 goals, but having looked at these number for a few years now I can see that while some counties take that to heart, others are in danger of plateauing with 25/3.

I look at this info as a call to help for two groups of counties. First there are the counties that rank near the bottom. They need to expand and upgrade broadband. Second, are the counties that have been hovering around the same percent covered (where that’s not 99+ percent) and are losing ground in the ranking. The exception would be if those counties are seeing a steep growth in the 100/20 percentage and ranking – which might indicate a slower but more future-forward plan.

For the most part the rankings were similar from 2018 to 2019. A few folks moved up or down a few places – based as much as growth round them as lack/burst of local growth. However, it’s probably worth looking at how your county stands compared to last year and why. Are you on the right trajectory to meet the 2022 and 2026 goals?

The one outlier was Brown County. They went from 96 percentage covered in 2018 to 84 percent coverage in 2019. It sounds like that is due to a provider supplying the Office of Broadband with more granular data that resulted in better data and reduced coverage. Few counties saw the decrease in coverage for the others that did, the reason is probably similar but in what I’d call a margin of error.

The best way to use this data is to download the spreadsheet. I am going to post an abridged version below (with fewer columns).

County Percentage Households Served 2019 Ranking 2019 Percentage Households Served 2018 Ranking 2018 Change in Rank
Aitkin 60.17 82 45.68 85 -3
Anoka 98.80 10 98.87 10 0
Becker 91.36 32 88.94 31 1
Beltrami 99.41 7 99.40 6 1
Benton 91.47 31 87.49 35 -4
Big Stone 99.58 6 98.91 9 -3
Blue Earth 78.33 61 77.95 49 -12
Brown 83.66 48 96.31 15 -33
Carlton 71.71 74 67.29 72 -2
Carver 92.14 28 89.81 27 -1
Cass 88.02 37 77.58 50 13
Chippewa 83.23 49 72.33 61 12
Chisago 83.85 47 73.27 59 12
Clay 95.82 18 95.45 17 -1
Clearwater 99.74 4 99.58 5 1
Cook 94.50 20 94.50 18 -2
Cottonwood 74.17 68 67.89 70 2
Crow Wing 92.84 26 92.29 25 -1
Dakota 98.46 11 97.54 12 1
Dodge 82.78 50 76.40 54 4
Douglas 88.25 36 82.96 43 7
Faribault 78.31 62 78.17 48 -14
Fillmore 57.89 85 45.02 86 1
Freeborn 87.92 39 84.31 39 0
Goodhue 79.44 59 77.10 52 -7
Grant 87.85 40 87.85 33 -7
Hennepin 99.39 8 99.18 8 0
Houston 72.94 71 71.29 65 -6
Hubbard 97.97 14 95.65 16 2
Isanti 73.50 70 73.67 57 -13
Itasca 93.12 22 86.15 38 16
Jackson 70.42 76 68.83 68 -8
Kanabec 66.05 79 67.07 73 -6
Kandiyohi 86.23 42 77.20 51 9
Kittson 74.99 67 71.38 64 -3
Koochiching 81.22 53 73.50 58 5
Lac qui Parle 97.35 15 97.35 13 -2
Lake 93.86 21 94.30 20 -1
Lake of the Woods 57.42 86 50.47 83 -3
Le Sueur 79.91 58 72.68 60 2
Lincoln 59.70 83 53.44 80 -3
Lyon 85.80 44 80.71 44 0
Mahnomen 89.87 34 76.93 53 19
Marshall 56.11 87 50.84 82 -5
Martin 80.29 57 56.38 78 21
McLeod 81.01 55 83.53 41 -14
Meeker 71.72 73 71.45 63 -10
Mille Lacs 83.86 46 62.00 76 30
Morrison 76.00 65 71.08 66 1
Mower 85.22 45 78.47 47 2
Murray 65.37 80 51.00 81 1
Nicollet 82.68 51 83.91 40 -11
Nobles 80.89 56 79.24 46 -10
Norman 98.45 12 98.02 11 -1
Olmsted 94.63 19 93.70 21 2
Otter Tail 92.93 25 89.56 28 3
Pennington 97.21 16 91.78 26 10
Pine 58.28 84 42.84 87 3
Pipestone 81.10 54 79.73 45 -9
Polk 93.11 23 93.00 23 0
Pope 76.99 64 61.27 77 13
Ramsey 99.86 3 99.84 3 0
Red Lake 99.99 1 99.99 1 0
Redwood 70.94 75 72.07 62 -13
Renville 61.90 81 55.06 79 -2
Rice 92.46 27 93.20 22 -5
Rock 99.93 2 99.93 2 0
Roseau 75.88 66 67.30 71 -5
Scott 96.43 17 94.50 19 2
Sherburne 91.63 30 89.23 29 -1
Sibley 73.59 69 63.47 75 6
St. Louis 86.23 43 83.47 42 -1
Stearns 91.72 29 88.96 30 1
Steele 88.44 35 87.79 34 -1
Stevens 99.22 9 99.22 7 -2
Swift 99.64 5 99.64 4 -1
Todd 71.91 72 67.96 69 -3
Traverse 67.25 78 66.14 74 -4
Wabasha 77.61 63 74.35 56 -7
Wadena 93.01 24 92.37 24 0
Waseca 82.19 52 75.30 55 3
Washington 98.44 13 97.21 14 1
Watonwan 79.21 60 70.70 67 7
Wilkin 88.01 38 86.53 36 -2
Winona 86.58 41 86.48 37 -4
Wright 91.07 33 87.89 32 -1
Yellow Medicine 68.31 77 46.91 84 7

The new MN Broadband County Maps are out!!

I always feel a little bit like The Jerk when the phone books come out when the Office of Broadband Development publishes the updated county broadband maps and info. And this week I’m jumping up and down.

I am going to do three separate posts on the data because I think it’s easier to take them on in smaller bites. This post I want to share the fact that the info is there. You can access the maps, data or a spreadsheet that include the following info for each county:

  • Household density
  • Number of households
  • Percent of households with wireline access to 25/3
  • Percent of households with wireline access to 100/20
  • Percent of households with wireline access to Gig up and down

And of course you can see a map of coverage in your county.

I’ll paste an abridged portion of the table – and I’ll focus on the Gig access. I’m working on posts that focus on 25/3 and 100/20 that will rank access and compare speeds and ranking to 2018. I will use this data to do the annual County Profiles – but with 87 counties that will take a while. (Download full spreadsheet for best access to data; I know the layout may be wonky here.)

Top 10 Counties for Gig Access

County ≥ 1 Gbps Download/1 Gbps Upload Speeds Ranking
Beltrami 98.78 1
Stevens 96.74 2
Cook 94.50 3
Lake 93.23 4
Clearwater 89.30 5
Red Lake 83.17 6
Winona 75.12 7
Kittson 74.99 8
Lac qui Parle 74.61 9
Wilkin 72.21 10

Bottom 10 Counties

County ≥ 1 Gbps Download/1 Gbps Upload Speeds Ranking
Faribault 0.09 78
Benton 0.00 79
Carlton 0.00 80
Kanabec 0.00 81
Kandiyohi 0.00 82
Martin 0.00 83
Mille Lacs 0.00 84
Pine 0.00 85
Redwood 0.00 86
Yellow Medicine 0.00 87

Rep Marquardt recognizes good work of Office of Broadband Development

Rep. Paul Marquart of Dilworth, who chairs the House Taxes Committee recognizes the positive impact of the MN Office of Broadband Development when talking about recent $40 million for grants from Legislators. As posted in DL-Online

The Legislature also approved $40 million for rural broadband expansion. “The Minnesota Broadband Office has really done a good job,” working with broadband providers with a minimum of red tape, Marquart said.

Special Sessions ends: $40 million to broadband

The Daily Session reports…

It took a grueling special session that stretched past sunrise, but Minnesota lawmakers completed their work early Saturday morning on passing a new two-year state budget.

Senator Westrom reports via Twitter

Today, the MN Senate unanimously passed the bipartisan agriculture, rural development, & housing budget. Highlights: $40M rural broadband expansion, value-added ag., including dairy and soybean programs, farmer mental health, and affordable manufactured workforce housing.

The MN Senate Republican Caucus reports…

Co-authored by Sen. Draheim, MN Senate passes bipartisan agriculture, rural broadband, and housing budget

and

Senator Goggin, Senate Republicans prioritize rural broadband, value-added agriculture, and affordable workforce housing in final agriculture budget bill

 

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.

Rep Layman advocates for broadband

The Grand Rapids Herald Review posts a letter from Representative Sandy Layman about her work in the Legislature including her focus on improving broadband access for all…

One of the most significant issues this committee addresses is the need for broadband expansion in greater Minnesota. Last week, we heard legislation I’m championing to provide increased funding for our state’s border-to-border broadband program, which funds broadband expansion to unserved or underserved parts of the state.

This bipartisan bill would provide $70 million over the next two years for critical broadband infrastructure in rural Minnesota. I successfully amended this bill last week to ensure it would also provide more immediate funding by allocating $15 million for broadband improvements in 2019. This $15 million is now a part of this bill, which the House majority and governor indicate is a priority.

Although I hoped legislators could agree on a much larger number, the broadband legislation I authored last year that passed and was sent to the governor would have provided this $15 million for 2019. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by then Governor Dayton – and this funding was lost. By pursuing this extra $15 million again this year, I’m looking to restore that lost funding.

Broadband’s importance to our area cannot be overstated. Access to quality broadband is a critical infrastructure need for rural communities across the state. Put simply, broadband allows us to be connected to the world. Its expansion will help small businesses grow, allow folks to work from home, and expand educational opportunities in rural schools. The countless constituents I’ve heard from and the energized groups visiting the Capitol clearly demonstrate the strong grassroots support for this issue.

Making broadband more accessible and affordable to communities like ours isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s a rural issue, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and the governor on it in the months ahead.

Gov Walz’s Budget is Rural Focused and that includes broadband

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on Governor Walz’s budget..

The $49.5 billion two-year spending proposal contains a number of pieces rural and greater Minnesota advocates have demanded. It would invest $70 million in rural broadband expansion. Local governments and counties would get $30 million more each year. Farmers would get $50 an acre in tax credits to help offset the expense of adding buffer strips along waterways.