Who has authority over broadband service in MN PUC or FCC?

Minnesota Public Radio reports…

The question of whether state government can regulate internet service has surfaced at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. The PUC will take up the matter this Thursday.

The state commerce department wants consumer internet complaints about Frontier Communications included in a PUC investigation of the company. The agency has received hundreds of complaints about Frontier, many concerning its internet service. The PUC plans a series of public meetings around the state to hear consumer comments on the matter.

But the state’s telecommunications companies maintain the regulation of internet service is something only the Federal Communications Commission can do.

Frontier would like the PUC to have FCC handle broadband issues and segment out only telephone for the PUC. The Attorney General says…

“An attempt to narrow the scope of the investigation at this stage would hinder the ability of the Commission and other state government entities to hear from customers,” the AG’s office wrote.

It said the question of who can regulate internet service is something “that does not need to be resolved at this phase.”

Frontier customers have told the PUC that their internet connection speed is often slow and undependable.

In a statement, Frontier Communications said it’s cooperating with the PUC review of its performance. But the company said the investigation should be limited to Frontier telephone service.

 

Supplemental budget (including broadband grants) passes – but threatened with Gubernatorial veto

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Minnesota lawmakers adjourned late Sunday after finalizing a handful of tax and spending measures, but with little chance they’d have much to show for three months of work as Gov. Mark Dayton vowed to veto most of their major efforts.

The Session Daily provides more details…

Early Sunday morning, the House passed a massive omnibus supplemental spending package. Then, around 4 p.m. Sunday, the House, in a second attempt within a week, passed a tax conformity bill that included special education funding requested by Gov. Mark Dayton. With minutes remaining before the constitutional deadline, the House passed a $1.4 billion capital investment bill and sent it to the governor.

“We’re excited, obviously,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) told the media after adjourning the 2018 session sine die. “A very successful session, passing all the big bills we had promised and delivered for Minnesotans in all the ways we said we would.”

Dayton told the media he would veto the tax and supplemental budget bills.

“It’s been a debacle,” Dayton said a few hours earlier. “But it’s been a debacle of their creation.”

And Minnesota Public Radio reports…

The bills passed on the session’s final days include:

  • a measure to cut taxes and free up more classroom money for schools

  • a construction package that could lead to $1.5 billion in projects

  • a massive budget bill that would increase state contributions to broadband expansions, provide schools money to secure campuses, take steps to attack the opioid epidemic and more.

All are shared goals of the governor and the Legislature, but most of the bills come with provisions that Dayton sees as objectionable or fail to adequately address the problems facing the state. The main spending bill spans 990 pages and would parcel out more than $130 million of a projected budget surplus.

The tax bill authorizes $225 million in spending for schools meant to avert layoffs and program cuts in some districts, but Dayton called it “fake,” because only $50 million of it was new money, and the rest comes from existing allocations schools are allowed to use in new ways.

So it’s a matter of seeing what happens at this point.

Capitol Update from MN Library Association – still $15 million for broadband

It’s hard to see what’s happening at the Capitol these days things are flying around so fast, but here’s a legislative update from the MN Library Association – they mention the $15 million for broadband…

The Supplemental budget bill is the arena for several issues of interest to MLA-ITEM. Regional Library Telecommunications Aid (RLTA) has been a source of debate this session as the MDE proposed re-purposing potential unspent RLTA funds for school telecom needs. House Education Finance Chair Jennifer Loon sought to keep these funds within the sphere of the regional public library world and her position, which we asked for, has prevailed at this point in time. The Supplemental conference report includes language allowing the regional library systems to spend RLTA funds on other broadband access related initiatives that don’t necessarily align with the federal e-rate program.

The Supplemental budget bill also contains $15 million for the broadband development fund.

Bill prohibiting blocking or altering caller ID (HF4518) is introduced in MN House

According to the House Introduction of Bills

The bill was read for the first time and referred to the Committee on Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance.

Sandstede; O’Driscoll; Nelson; Layman; Murphy, M.; Schultz; Sundin; Kunesh-Podein; Slocum; Murphy, E.; Mahoney; Metsa; Mariani; Freiberg; Carlson, L.; Bernardy; Maye Quade; Liebling; Hilstrom; Fischer; Rosenthal; Halverson; Wagenius; Olson; Jessup; Ward; Bennett; Albright and Grossell introduced:

  1. F. 4518,A bill for an act relating to telecommunications; prohibiting blocking or altering caller ID in making a commercial telephone solicitation; amending Minnesota Statutes 2016, section 325E.30.

The bill was read for the first time and referred to the Committee on Commerce and Regulatory Reform.

Here is the text of the bill

A bill for an act
relating to telecommunications; prohibiting blocking or altering caller ID in making
a commercial telephone solicitation; amending Minnesota Statutes 2016, section
325E.30.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

Section 1.

Minnesota Statutes 2016, section 325E.30, is amended to read:

325E.30 TIME OF DAY LIMITOTHER PROHIBITIONS.

(a) A caller shall not use an automatic dialing-announcing device nor make any
commercial telephone solicitation before 9:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.

(b) A caller may not block or use an altered caller ID in making a commercial telephone
solicitation.

Minnesota’s telehealth policies are noted in State Telehealth Laws report

MHealth Intelligence reports…

In its spring 2018 update of the State Telehealth Laws and Reimbursement Policies Report, the Center for Connected Health Policy reports that 10 states have amended their telehealth policies since August 2016 to specifically make the patient’s home an originating site for Medicaid-accepted telehealth and telemedicine programs. Those states are Delaware, Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

Meanwhile, the report notes that six states have limited the geographic requirement altogether since 2013. And 16 states have added schools to the list of approved originating sites, though some are placing restrictions on those services.

According the CCHP’s sixth annual report, some 160 telehealth-related bills have been introduced during the 2018 legislative session in 44 states, continuing a digital health trend that saw more than 200 pieces of legislation introduced during the 2017 session. But not all of those bills are supportive of new healthcare services.

Minnesota also gets a nod for telehealth licensure…

In terms of telehealth licensure, the report finds that nine states – Alabama, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas – issue specific licenses to use telehealth, while 22 states have joined the Federation of State Medical Boards’ Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, which offers an expedited process to applying for licenses to practice in member states. Three states, Tennessee, Montana and Nevada, dropped individual license requirements to join the compact (though Tennessee’s Osteopathic Board is still issuing telehealth licenses).

Broadband service spreading in rural Murray, Pipestone counties

The Globe reports on a process that Nobles, Murray and Pipestone Counties have used to move to better broadband in their areas…

The widespread utility of broadband has led several southwest Minnesota counties to invest their time and money into researching the topic, and make serious progress in the process.

In 2016, Nobles County conducted a broadband feasibility study with CCG and Slayton-based Finley Engineering. Shortly after, the state’s Border-to-Border grant program awarded Lismore Cooperative Telephone nearly $3 million to create a hybrid fiber and wireless network that will provide baseline broadband speeds to most of the county and ultra-fast fiber to hundreds of homes. The project is expected to be completed by mid-2018.

Last year, Murray County and Pipestone County partnered with four other southwest Minnesota counties and the Blandin Foundation to conduct feasibility studies — also done by Finley and CCG — in hopes of getting a similar outcome.

Pipestone County’s study was completed in February 2017, and later that year, Ruthton-based Woodstock Telephone received a $363,851 grant from the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband to provide fixed wireless broadband to rural Pipestone County.

Murray County is still working on access…

“The county does not plan to build a broadband network but is open to talking with providers who are interested in extending service to our citizens and may need financial assistance to do so,” Rucker said. “Murray County had the feasibility study completed so that any provider who wants to extend broadband service to our unserved and underserved areas could use the study as background to apply for state or federal grants to do so.”

The county has seen significant broadband investment from Woodstock since 2015, when it installed two wireless broadband towers around Lake Shetek. It continued over the last two years, installing eight internet coverage sites in the area, including towers in Lake Wilson, Slayton and Edgerton. The company plans to add another tower south of Chandler this year.

The towers, which are fed with fiber, provide 50Mbps download speeds at a range of six miles, according to Terry Nelson, Woodstock general manager. The speeds and service can vary, however, as wireless internet can be disrupted by geographical features such as hills, trees and windmills.

“We’ve done wireless in a lot of these areas, but there’s still little pockets that we can’t hit with some of our wireless,” Nelson said. “I would definitely never say the county is 100 percent covered, because it’s not.”

An October 2017 report from the state found 99.8 percent of Murray County households have access to 25/3 broadband — up from 50.47 percent in July 2016 — and more than 52.9 percent can access 100/20 — up from 41.56 percent. The numbers in Pipestone County are 97.87 and 79.73 percent — up from 79.36 and 44.54 percent, respectively — but Dawson said the numbers shouldn’t be relied on.

Counties recognize wireless as a means to meeting 2022 state goals, but at looking for fiber to reach 2026 goals…

Minnesota wants 25/3 speeds mandated statewide by 2022. By 2026, the required numbers will be raised to 100/20. Reaching those speeds consistently is nearly impossible with wireless internet, Dawson said.

“The wireless that we’re talking about is capable of that within a mile or so, but you would have to put a cell site at every farm — that’s not going to happen,” he said.

Instead, broadband experts agree the ultimate solution is delivering fiber-to-the-home, reliably delivering 1-gigabit (1000Mbps) speeds.

Lismore Telephone is installing fiber to every household in Leota and Wilmont and hundreds of homes along its 135-mile fiber ring, but it is expensive. In addition to $6 million between the state and Nobles County, the county had to throw in an addition $1 million in cash and $2.57 million in taxable general obligation tax abatement bonds to make it work.

That’s with fiber costing around $20,000 per mile, and the price won’t be coming down any time soon, Dawson said.

“You are already in a state where fiber is as cheap as it will possibly be,” Dawson said. “With 50-foot deep soil, they can get it in real easy. Minnesota can bury fiber for $20,000 a mile, where in a lot of parts of the country, that’s $50,000 a mile.”

For Woodstock, a successful fiber formula has been delivering directly to large businesses, where the return on investment makes it doable.

Saint Paul Public Library Extends to Giant Wash Coin Laundry

I love this idea – I stopped by the laundromat earlier today to check it out. There room was full and the vibe was great. Here’s the info from a press release from the St Paul Library

Mayor Melvin Carter III will launch the new “Wash and Learn” program at Giant Wash (1675 Rice Street, 55117) on May 12, 2018, at 11 a.m. Giant Wash Laundry will host a Free Laundry Day in celebration, and offer free wash and dry to community members who register between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. All attendees will have opportunities to participate in librarian-lead learning workshops and take home free books and educational resources.

“Wash & Learn is an example of the forward-thinking ideas and partnerships we intend to advance throughout Saint Paul,” says Mayor Carter. “Meeting people where they are with Library programs, materials, and resources makes perfect sense. It is through these unique partnerships and simple solutions that we build a city that works for all of us.”

SPPL partnered with Minnesota State Library Services and Libraries Without Borders (LWB), a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., to launch Wash & Learn at Giant Wash. The program aims to extend SPPL’s efforts to close the digital divide among residents of Saint Paul. LWB will install laptops and WiFi hotspots at the laundromat, alongside bookshelves with materials customers can read on site or check out and take home.

When I was there, they thought they might clean up to 20,000 pounds of laundry. It looked like the kids had just picked up on the computer and were pretty intent. And two kids had just won bikes. The plan moving forward is to have librarians in the laundromat a couple hours each Saturday until October. It’s a great opportunity to do some one-on-one digital and information literacy lessons. A great model for other communities. In fact turns out Stillwater will try something on Monday and Anoka County is looking at a similar program.