MRBC Update: Senate Tucks Broadband Funding into Jobs Omnibus Bill

An update from the MN Broadband Coalition…

Senate Tucks Broadband Funding into Jobs Omnibus Bill
The Minnesota Senate amended the Jobs and Economic Development Omnibus Bill on Monday, June 21 to include $70 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. As we have said in this space before, the Legislature’s final weeks are fluid, and nothing is a sure thing until the vote is completed on a bill. Such is the case with broadband funding this week.
Legislative leadership’s plan for broadband was to include it in a bonding bill. However, as the special session has progressed, Senate leadership became less confident in the prospects of a bonding bill meeting the supermajority threshold necessary to pass the House. Since regular budget bills require a simple majority, they decided to add the broadband funding to the Jobs Omnibus Bill. For those keeping score at home, this is broadband’s third home this year: agriculture, bonding, and now jobs.
The Senate took up the Jobs bill Tuesday, June 22 and eventually passed it 45-21.
We do not know what the House will do with this bill or if the Jobs bill will be the final home for broadband this year. Regardless, the funding is agreed upon by the House, Senate, and Governor and we are optimistic they will not leave Saint Paul without funding it. Leaders have said they want to have the budget closed up by Friday. The state will officially shut down on July 1 without a budget, but various aspects of state government—including campground reservations, state employee layoffs, and road construction projects—will start winding down by the end of this week if the Legislature doesn’t act. They have lots of incentive to get the job done! We will keep you updated.

From MN Broadband Coalition – Action Alert! Broadband Funding

From the Minnesota Broadband Coalition…

Legislators are back at the Capitol for a special session. Budget bills began to move through the process this weekend and we expect them to continue working through June 30. We can’t let them leave Saint Paul without funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program!
Right now, leaders have agreed to put at least $70 million for the grant program in the bonding bill. This bill requires a supermajority approval, which means Republicans and DFLers must vote for it.
We need your help! Please contact your legislators and urge them to pass a bonding bill that includes at least $70 million for broadband funding during the special session. Make sure to let them know you don’t want to see any changes to broadband policy language, too! The Coalition has opposed the proposed policy changes like adding “fixed wireless” to state broadband definitions.
We are asking you to email your state senator and your state representative TODAY and urge them to pass a bonding bill during the special session.
Tell them:

  • Keep their promise at the end of regular session to put $70 million in the grant program.
  • Around 157,000 Minnesotan households lack access to the lowest speeds considered broadband.
  • Pass a clean funding bill without any policy changes.
  • Without a bonding bill, the broadband grant program will have no funding and rural Minnesota will continue to be left behind.
  • Tell them your broadband story! If you have broadband, let them know how it has improved your life. If you don’t, tell them how it would help you and your community.

Contact Info

Please email your local legislators and the four legislative leaders

  • Find your local legislators’ contact information here.
  • Email the four legislative leaders here.
    • Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
    • Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman
    • Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent
    • House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt

MN Legislature is still talking about omnibus bills

In the spirit of honesty, I’m traveling so I’m not sure that this is the latest news but here’s what Pioneer Press is reported yesterday

The Minnesota Legislature on Friday neared the close of the first week of a special legislative session without passing and sending a single budget bill to the governor’s desk.

After briefly debating a jobs and economic development omnibus bill on Friday, the Senate adjourned for the weekend before casting a vote on the measure. The bill was amended to include oil refinery safety measures then abruptly tabled. The Senate a day earlier teed up budget bills dealing with agriculture, commerce, outdoor heritage and higher education for a vote but couldn’t pass them since the House had yet to vote them out of that chamber.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the House on Friday launched an hours-long filibuster over an agriculture and broadband omnibus spending bill. On Thursday, GOP lawmakers spent 12 hours stalling a vote on a commerce and energy bill and they said four budget bills set to come to the floor hadn’t been properly vetted and should return to committees for review.

IEDC report on how economic developers are expanding broadband access

The IEDC has written a guidebook of sort to help economic developers promote better broadband. As they say…

In response to the market’s failure to provide universal, affordable, reliable access, public networks and publicly facilitated solutions continue to grow. Economic developers play important roles in planning and  implementing these solutions, which this paper shows in three main sections:

  • A broadband “crash course” – key things to know about how broadband works
  • An overview of different communities’ strategic approaches and technical solutions
  • Actions economic development organizations are taking to expand access

And…

Five in‐epth case studies are included showing how economic development organizations have played a  central role in improving broadband access in their communities. Those roles include:

  • Convening stakeholders,
  • Gathering data,
  • Engaging in strategic planning,
  • Helping evaluate solutions, and
  • Helping secure financing for solutions.

This is a great tool if you’re in a position where you have to sell the idea of broadband. If you’ve been doing this for a while, the story won’t be new but the stats are. Here are just a few:

  • In 2021, major corporations, including Ford in Michigan and Target in Minnesota, have said they are giving up significant office space because of their changing workplace practices.
  • 51% of respondents said their corporate clients are now considering moving their business operations
  • A joint study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Amazon found that in Virginia alone, universal broadband would mean at least $2.24 billion increased annual sales, $1.29 billion annual value added, 9,415 added jobs, and $452.4 million in annual wages.

The report also, as indicated goes into the nuts and bolt of broadband, such as…

  • Why satellite access doesn’t substitute for fixed access
  • Why 5g isn’t the answer to better community access
  • The digital divide: Who doesn’t have internet and why?

They even draw a few examples from Minnesota, especially Chisago County…

Chisago County, Minn. Case highlights:

  • Solution involved collaboration with incumbent ISP
  • Public funding layered on private investment got higher-quality service
  • Help from a rural community foundation
  • Role of survey data and citizen involvement

Minnesota has a couple of advantages when it comes to expanding broadband service. One of those is a longstanding commitment by the state to the goal of universal broadband access for residents (at speeds of 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026). The other is the Blandin Foundation, which, as part of its vision to create healthy, inclusive rural communities in the state, has focused for years on helping expand broadband access.

In 2015, Chisago County, located roughly an hour north of Minneapolis-St. Paul, began its broadband efforts in earnest. The work was spearheaded by the Chisago County Housing & Redevelopment Authority – Economic Development Authority (HRA-EDA) and its executive director, Nancy Hoffman. (Hoffman previously worked on broadband access in another rural Minnesota county and also has served as chair of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition.)

Chisago County was accepted into the Blandin Broadband Communities program, an intensive, two-year process in which rural communities define their technology goals, measure current levels of broadband access and use, and access technical assistance and resources to meet their goals. Each community also has the opportunity to apply to the foundation for a $75,000 matching grant for locally developed projects.

Led by a local steering committee, in 2016, one of the first actions was to survey county residents about their current broadband access, whether they would subscribe to better service and for what they would use it (such surveys are useful both to determine demand and to use in grant applications). The results found that 94 percent of residents would subscribe to better broadband service for uses that included improved quality of life, education, telecommuting and starting a business. Seventy-six percent of Chisago County working residents commute out of the county, so part of the goal from the HRA-EDA’s perspective was to give people the opportunity to work, shop and stay closer to home by telecommuting or starting their own business. The study also showed that numerous homebased businesses paid too much for poor service or had to find other locations to upload or download files.

Once the county had data on unserved/underserved areas and potential demand for improved service, the technical solution became the question. The steering committee began by talking to incumbent providers (of which there were seven in the county, including telephone and cable providers CenturyLink and Frontier).

They found a willing partner in CenturyLink, which had received federal Connect America Funds (CAF II) that it planned to use to upgrade service in half of Sunrise Township using DSL technology; CAF II speed requirements are just 10/1 Mbp. (Frontier served the other half of the town and declined to participate). To secure faster, more reliable service, the township proposed to invest local funding, combined with a grant from the state’s Border to Border Broadband grant program, to prompt CenturyLink to build a fiber-to-the-home network that met (at minimum) the state speed goals of 100/20 Mbps.

A petition signed by 50 percent of the residents in favor of the project helped spur Sunrise Township to action. The township raised the funds by bonding through a subordinated service district, assessed by parcel, rather than property value. After seeing Sunrise Township’s success, other communities began pursuing similar strategies to improve service. Fish Lake Township, also in Chisago County, has since completed a project in which it raised funds for the local share by issuing tax abatement bonds (property owners are assessed by value). Nessel Township followed suit the next year with the same financing model. The cost savings by having high-speed Internet much outweighed the additional cost the residents pay, which is about $100 a year or $10 a month.

Takeaways:

  • Get the right people together. Don’t worry about titles. Bring in people who get things done.
  • Cultivate personal passions. Harness the energy of where the group wants to go. Don’t fight it.
  • Show people they’re not alone. Work on building relationships of mutual trust. Relationships will carry the work forward.
  • Show successes early and often. Break down the project into bite-size pieces that the community can grab hold of and achieve. Celebrate the successes to re-energize before starting on the next piece. Sources: Interview with Nancy Hoffman; Blandin Broadband Communities Program, Blandin Foundation

And a few other mentions…

  • [Federal covid-19 relief funds] Many states and communities used CARES Act funds for infrastructure projects (which had to be used by the end of 2020, limiting flexibility). Itasca County, Minnesota, committed $293,000 in CARES funds to complete four projects in the county. The city of Chesapeake, Va., used it to fast-track the engineering design for a 170-mile fiber backbone that will connect over 200 sites and lay a foundation for gigabit broadband.
  • The Cargill Foundation, Blandin Foundation, Bush Foundation, and numerous other foundations and businesses based in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region donated $2.35 million in grants to the Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity (MBCRE) and Partnership for a ConnectedMN to address digital inequities that affect many Minnesota students. Grants fund the distribution of laptops, fiber internet installation, training for digital literacy, and more

 

Blandin, Northland, IRRRB helps Arrowhead leaders focus on broadband

Grand Rapids Herald Review reports

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, local leaders throughout Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region (Aitkin, Cook, Carlton, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis Counties) came together to assess their communities’ strengths and challenges in building and sustaining broadband-powered economies. Based on what they learned, eight projects emerged and will be supported through regional grants.

“Arrowhead Regional leaders had the courage and tenacity to dedicate time during a pandemic to look deeply at how broadband was propelling or, because of the lack of it, preventing community growth,” said Tuleah Palmer, president and CEO at Blandin Foundation. “These small grants will kindle the real power of this initiative – the collaborative, innovative spirit living within our rural communities.”

Here are some of the grants that were funded…

  • With an $8,000 grant, St. Louis County School District 2142 will map students’ homes within the St. Louis County School District (including Nett Lake, NorthWoods, Tower, Babbitt, Cherry and SouthRidge) to determine existing broadband speeds and plan for a wireless broadband network to encompass the 3,850 square miles of the district. Leading the project, Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) is working in partnership with the Northeast Service Cooperative on a proposed wireless network build off their middle mile fiber network that runs throughout the service area. Ultimately, the project hopes to serve many of the district’s 2,200 students at the lowest possible cost.
  • Iron Range Tourism Bureau will develop a co-working space and expand their outreach and recruitment of remote workers. This project builds on their Hello Iron Range initiative, a talent attraction initiative that promotes the region’s workforce opportunities and connects incoming and existing residents to local networking events and resources.
  • Minnesota’s Children’s Press will create a new youth-, knowledge- and tech-driven genre of literature with help from a $35,000 grant. Through this project, youth will collect and map locations of litter in Grand Marais and on the shores of Lake Superior using ArcGIS Mapping software. Following data analysis, youth will write, illustrate, and publish a book about their findings and solutions. An outreach campaign will focus on both the findings of the project as well as the process and it will include presentations to local leaders, workshop offerings, a website housing free civic digital journalism resources and a social media series.
  • Smart North will plan for and implement a pilot project for smart streetlights and mobility hubs in the City of Grand Rapids through the support of a $50,000 grant. This infrastructure will allow city departments to access and share data, enable robust 5G connectivity throughout the city and provide municipal WiFi access. In partnership with The Grand Iron Range CAV Initiative, this effort will support the test of the country’s first autonomous shuttle vehicle in a rural, all-season community.
  • Northspan seeks to strengthen equitable digital access across the Arrowhead region through their Welcoming Community initiative with the support of a $50,000 grant. Through this project, Northspan will gather regional broadband data to create a baseline for fair, equal access to broadband and technology and explore how it impacts people of various race/ethnicities, income, education and ages within the Arrowhead region. This data will inform a series of conversations and engagements on why digital equity gaps exist and inform programming to address gaps.

EVENTS: 100 rural MN gatherings, 100 rural MN communities.

From our friends at 100 Rural Women…

Join us this summer as we will be “traveling” (virtually) across the state of Minnesota by region during the summer of 2021. Overall we will hold 30 meetings across Minnesota in an effort to create connections, explore existing formal and informal networks of rural women and discuss what leadership looks like for women. Our goal is to ignite action in community, leadership, civic engagement, and rural entrepreneurship, while simultaneously identifying opportunities and connecting local women to each other.

Click here to Sign up for a gathering

I’m hoping folks will join and make sure that broadband is a hot topic!

HBC offers free internet to guests in transitional housing in Winona

HBC reports

Helping the homeless has been heavy on the heart of Carla Burton, founder and Executive Director of Grace Place in Winona for many years. It has been part of her vision since Grace Place Ministry began in 1992, offering shelter and safe housing for young, single mothers.

Burton’s dream of being able to offer transitional housing to help individuals and families get back on their feet came true this past January when Grace Place purchased the former Catholic Worker House at 802 W. 6th Street in Winona. With the help of volunteers, the home has been refreshed with new paint and repairs made.

Burton said it was a challenge to get the home ready for families, “We purchased the home in January 2020 and we all know what happened a few months later with COVID-19. But we had the help of volunteers who repainted walls, and Habitat for Humanity took care of needed repairs,” she said.

For its part, Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC) will be donating Internet service for the home’s guests. Burton said having access to the Internet will play an important role in getting people back on their feet.

“Without Internet what would you do,” asked Burton. “Nearly everything needed to get a job requires an Internet connection including learning new skills, finding job opportunities, and emailing job applications and resumes.”

Two things that are close to my heart! Having volunteered time with people experiencing homelessness, I have seen how important broadband access is. It is the connection to a potential job, to friends and family, to finding resources such as a bed for the night or getting into the system for more support. It is a gift that is like offering someone a fishing pole. It’s a tool to help someone help themselves.

Kandiyohi County commits $1.3 million ARP funding to broadband

Gov Tech reports

Kandiyohi County, as part of the federal American Rescue Plan coronavirus relief package, will receive over the next year approximately $8.3 million. The funds can be used to pay for a wide range of projects, programs and personnel, as long as it can be tied back to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An area getting a lot of attention is high-speed broadband. The rules of the American Rescue Plan say funds can be used for critical infrastructure projects, including broadband investments that can provide 1,000 megabits per second upload and download speeds.

At a work session June 10, there was a consensus of the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners to spend a large chunk of the county’s allotment, perhaps as much as 75 percent, to help fund several broadband improvement projects across the county.

Here are the specifics…

The County Board began to make good on that consensus Tuesday, committing $1,314,386 to a project that will expand high-speed broadband to Dovre, Mamre, St. Johns and Arctander townships.

EVENT Oct 12-14: Building on Broadband: Inspiring Progress

From the Blandin Foundation on the annual broadband conference…

Mark Your Calendar! Building on Broadband: Inspiring Progress
October 12-14, 2021

For our 2021 virtual broadband conference, we want to hear from YOU!

Yes, as the pandemic wanes, we’re planning another online broadband conference for 2021. But hear us out. This will not be a nine-hour webinar!

We want this conference to be your chance to be heard, and to interact with others from around the state. What’s the best thing you’ve experienced/learned around broadband or technology this year? What have you been working on? What has inspired you? If presenting isn’t your thing, don’t worry – suggest a TED talk we can discuss, pose an open space question, or better yet make your own short video. The sky’s the limit! See the Request for Proposals and submit your idea today!

Next, attend one of eight regional meetings being planned around the state to share your broadband story, to learn about the state of broadband, and plans around Federal funding opportunities in your neck-of-the-woods.

Finally, join us online for a 3-day, statewide event to hear what’s happening across the state – what is being accomplished, what is still needed, and how we can inspire each other to keep at it!

This year, we’ve all lived through a shared, but unique, experience. What was yours like? How did broadband help or hinder – or motivate – you, or your community?

We know rural Minnesotans keenly felt how important a strong, reliable broadband connection is. When kids can’t go to school, adults can’t work, and families can’t access needed resources, our communities suffer. By working together, though, our communities can forge solutions. Countless rural Minnesota communities have shown the way. Your community can too!

We’ll be in touch again soon with more information:

  • We will share information on the regional meetings as details become available.
  • Conference registration coming in August!

Questions? Visit the conference webpage or contact Mary Magnuson at memamagnuson@blandinfoundation.org

States go through stages to fund broadband: MN lifted as early adopter

The Benton Institute posts an article from CTC Energy and Technology on the steps that state take to fund local broadband efforts. They outline three stages…

  1. In the first stage, states must develop an overall broadband plan that identifies where improved connectivity is most needed and how those needs should be met.
  2. In the second stage, states design the structure and rules of their broadband funding programs to meet these goals.
  3. In the third stage, states execute their grant strategies and then revise and adjust them for further rounds of funding to incorporate lessons learned in earlier rounds.

And they pull out Minnesota as an early adopter…

States do not progress through these stages uniformly. For example, whereas Minnesota’s grant program was initially developed from nearly a decade of prior state-level strategy development, Illinois moved from planning to grant program execution quickly and efficiently, in part because it benefited from Minnesota’s lessons learned and best practices. Multiple iterations of the Minnesota broadband task force met from 2008 until the state created an administrative entity to execute broadband strategy in 2013, with initial infrastructure grant funding in 2015. The grant program has evolved by using feedback from prior grant cycles to fine-tune its approach and cultivate a pipeline of potential projects. In contrast, states such as Illinois and Virginia learned from Minnesota’s example and demonstrate how the time between planning and program execution can be dramatically reduced. Illinois’s $420 million grants program was launched in 2019, following simultaneous development of the program and availability information-gathering, stakeholder outreach, and strategy development.

While it’s always nice to be an early adopter, the article points out that a good idea will be replicated. Minnesota needs to go through these stages routinely to make sure to stay on top of the game.

Quarantine rules help spread telehealth options for rural moms-to-be in Bemidji

The Bemidji Pioneer reports

If there’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be how it sped up a change in prenatal care that could improve outcomes for rural mothers and babies.

Dr. Johnna Nynas, an OB/GYN physician at Sanford Health in Bemidji, discussed her hospital’s move to offering virtual visits during the past year.

“We started laying the groundwork a couple of years ago,” said Nynas. “We looked at implementing a virtual visit option that provided patients with some equipment to monitor their pregnancies at home, including a blood pressure cuff, and then a Doppler, so they can listen to their baby at home. But what really thrust us to the forefront and accelerated the timeline was the COVID pandemic.”

Technical and legal challenges involved the interface between patients at home and their medical records. But with the onset of the pandemic, Nynas said, “there were rapid changes in Congress that made it much easier for health care organizations to initiate telehealth.”

They need better broadband…

There are still barriers that need to be addressed, such as broadband and cellular access in rural areas and for lower-income families. And there are days when the technology doesn’t work as well as others, and doctors have to make do with voice-only telephone visits.

Still, Nynas said, virtual visits will likely continue even after COVID-19 fades from public awareness.

There is a need…

The disparity is real. Nynas quoted shocking statistics: 23 percent of American women live in rural areas, but only 6% of OB/GYNs practice in rural areas. “That’s the challenge that we’re up against,” she said.

The benefit of prenatal care is also real, even for women whose pregnancies are considered low-risk. “It’s better to connect with prenatal care and get that care when and however you can,” said Nynas, “because getting no prenatal care is definitely correlated with worse outcomes.”

At the same time, the costs of running a labor and delivery unit while performing fewer deliveries are widening the gap between rural patients and the care they need. “That’s where being able to offer services remotely can be a really helpful thing,” she said.

EVENT Today (3pm): HF8 (Sundin) Agriculture and Broadband Budget Omnibus

Just got notice on this meeting. One quick note – this is to discussion funding the Office of Broadband Development NOT the Border to Border grants. Those have been moved to infrastructure. Depending on …

AGENDA – Ways and Means Committee – Monday, June 14, 3:00PM (or 1 hour after floor session adjourns, whichever is later) – Remote Hearing by Zoom

NOTE: BILLS MAY BE ADDED

-HF13 (Lillie) Legacy Fund Budget Omnibus

-HF8 (Sundin) Agriculture and Broadband Budget Omnibus

Info on broadband is on the final page of the bill language…

21.14 Section 1. BROADBAND DEVELOPMENT APPROPRIATIONS.​

21.15 The sumsshown in the columns marked “Appropriations” are appropriated to the agency​

21.16 and for the purposes specified in this article. The appropriations are from the general fund,​

21.17 or another named fund, and are available for the fiscal years indicated for each purpose.​

21.18 The figures “2022” and “2023” used in this article mean that the appropriations listed under​

21.19 them are available for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, or June 30, 2023, respectively.​

21.20 “The first year” is fiscal year 2022. “The second year” is fiscal year 2023. “The biennium”​

21.21 is fiscal years 2022 and 2023.​

21.22 APPROPRIATIONS​

21.23 Available for the Year​

21.24 Ending June 30​

21.25 2022​ 2023​ $​ 350,000​ $​ 350,000​

21.26 Sec. 2. DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT​

21.27 AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT​

21.28 $350,000 each year is for the Office of​

21.29 Broadband Development.

Depending on when it actually starts, I suspect I won’t be able to attend but here’s the info…

Meeting documents will be posted on the House Ways and Means Committee website at https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/Committees/Home/92029

Public Viewing Information:

This remote hearing will be live-streamed via the House webcast schedule page: https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/htv/schedule.asp.

MN Broadband Task Force June 2021: broadband and people with disabilities, Emergency Broadband Benefits and MN Leg Update

The Minnesota Broadband Task Force met. They heard from Arc Minnesota on the impact of broadband (good and bad) on people with autism and other disabilities. They also heard from someone from the FCC on the ins and outs on the Emergency Broadband Benefits. They got an update on broadband in the MN legislature, combined with a comment at the end meeting on federal funding. The concern is that funding for MN grants has moved from Ag bill to Infrastructure bonding. The good news is that the Senate has greatly increased their proposed budget for broadband. The bad news is that is likely a starting/bargaining place. The other bad news is that changes in federal policy and lack of specificity in eligible households may create a conflict between what MN and the Feds are doing.

Full notes:

Legislative Update

Today is first day of special session. Workgroups have met behind closed doors. It’s been slow. End of fiscal year is June 30.

Broadband has been confusing. They kept the Office of Broadband Development budget in Ag and program budget (grants) is now in infrastructure. The OBD budget is pretty much set but the grant funding is still in play. Senate wants to put $179 million (entire infrastructure budget) into broadband.

Q: What about the need for majority votes?
A: Not sure how that plays out when this is federal funds into bonding.

Broadband is bipartisan so the hope is that this is something they will push through.

Q: Should the Task Force send a letter?
A: Good point.

PRESENTATION

Presentation by Alicia Munson, Chief Program Officer, The Arc Minnesota and Maren Christenson, Multicultural Autism Action Network/Arc Minnesota Board of Directors

We address the needs of kids with autism, who often come from families without a lot of resources .Access to broadband is a big part of providing services.

One big barrier for our clients is stigma.

Programmatic Values:

  • Human and Civil Rights
  • Self-Advocacy and Self Direction
  • Equity and Belonging
  • Racial and Disability Justice

Broadband Access and the Disability Community

  • Education
  • Healthcare and quality
  • Neighborhood and built environment
  • Social and community context
  • Economic stability

Online tools (such as Zoom meetings) have made things more accessible for some people, depending on disability and broadband access.

You might think that most people with people disabilities live in the Twin Cities. Percentage-wise that isn’t true and comparing maps you can see there are some areas with low broadband and high disability percentage.

Policy Recommendations

  • OBD job opportunities for people with disabilities
  • Interagency collaboration
  • Representation for people with disabilities on Task Force
  • Broadband grants – consider weighting grants based on work with people with disabilities
  • K12 Connect Forward Initiative
  • Grants to Supplement tech access
  • Ongoing tech support

PRESENTAION

FCC Emergency Broadband Benefit Presentation by Dave Savolaine, Consumer Affairs and Outreach Division, FCC

What is EBB? (Learn more: https://www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit) It can mean:

  • $50/month subsidy for broadband – but paid to provider
  • $75/month subsidy for broadband on tribal area
  • $100 one-time discount for computer if you buy through your provider
  • (reduced bill for customer not a check)

Who Is Eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program?

A household is eligible if a member of the household meets one of the criteria below:

  • Has an income that is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline;
  • Approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020 and the household had a total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

How long will this continue?

  • Until the funds run out OR six months after the Dep of Health decide the pandemic is over

SUBGROUP UPDATES

Yvonne:

  • Working on plans for an in-person meeting.
  • Heard from Chris Mitchell
  • Going to hear from Community Broadband Access Network

Nolan:

  • No recent meetings (although some met in May)
  • Looking for a speaker from industry – guy from Lumen didn’t work out
  • Paul Solsrud with talk about CNS mapping tool

Paul:

  • Nothing new to share

Updates:

  • They have maybe found someone to write the next task force report.
  • The July agenda is set

Biden made recommendations on America Rescue Funds. At first it looked good for broadband. But not they are focus on households without “reliable access to 25/3” and there’s no real definition for this. AND combine that with the movement at State level of funding from Ag to bond infrastructure – and we’re in danger of having funding get lost in the red tape.

July agenda

  • CNS (mapping)
  • Dep of Transportation (IoT)

MRBC Legislative Update: Special Session Broadband Funding

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Legislature Convenes Special Session
The Minnesota Legislature convened its first Special Session of 2021 on Monday, June 14, at the Capitol in Saint Paul. There is a lengthy list of things legislators need to accomplish, including the constitutionally mandated two-year budget and other priority items like an infrastructure (bonding) bill, police reform measures, various policy bills, a tax bill, and the governor’s emergency powers extension. The state will enter a government shutdown if a budget is not passed by July 1. If this seems like a lot to tackle in two weeks, you’re right. However, leaders expressed optimism this week that they believe the job can be done.
Broadband in the Bonding Bill
Funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program was moved from the Agriculture Committee to the Capital Investment Committee. Legislative leaders said after the regular session ended that the funding will be in the bonding bill and would come from the Capital Projects Fund given to the state through the federal American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress earlier this year. The agreement at the end of the regular session was $70 million over the next two years. A bonding bill requires a supermajority vote in both chambers, so it is more difficult to pass.
Note: Even though the funding is in the bonding bill, the money will not come from state bonds. It will simply be an item within the bonding bill.
We expect House and Senate Capital Investment Committee Chairs will exchange offers several times during the next two weeks, so funding levels and location may change! However, we believe broadband is in the strongest possible position to receive a significant investment.
Call to Action
Keep an eye out for a Call-to-Action letter-writing soon. We will send this out via the Coalition list sometime this week. So, be prepared to have your organization’s members write and call their legislators and the governor about why broadband funding is so important!

Biden wants to lower broadband costs – industry says they’ve done that through subsidies but we need lower for all

Axios reports

President Biden’s promise to cut the price of Americans’ internet bills has provoked a fierce lobbying campaign by cable and telecom companies to prove that the cost of broadband has already dropped.

Why it matters: Internet providers are desperate to fend off any move to regulate the prices they charge, while the government is increasingly viewing connectivity as an essential service.

State of play: Internet industry lobbyists are publicly touting studies showing a decline in prices, attacking reports that argue otherwise and telling members of Congress there’s no need for new regulations because they already have affordable programs in place.

The article goes into detail about what’s happening, why it’s happening and the implications. The issue is that President Biden is looking to make broadband more affordable to everyone and the providers talk about ways to subsidize low income customers. There’s a difference. There’s a difference in who might be paying the subsidy. For example, the Emergency Broadband Benefit provides $50/month to low income households for broadband ($75 in tribal areas) and that is public money. There’s a difference in who qualifies for subsidies.

For many users, just lowering the price would lower the barrier and make it more affordable and sustainable to keep a connection. In fact, at a lower rate providers might get more customers who don’t need the subsidy.

A few years ago, I re-posted a letter from former Blandin Broadband Strategy Board member who explained the difference from the frontlines…

However, these subsidized programs exclude the working poor, and working and middle class who still need affordable internet; and we really need to make Internet affordable for all. …

During that time I found out there was a new cheaper fiber option in my neighborhood through US Internet, and so I switched over and ended up saving about $500 a year. I put away that money and put $300 into a retirement account, spent $100 on groceries, and spent $100 towards travel.

Thanks to this new internet option I was unexpectedly able to save more for retirement and take a much needed vacation. Well, I told everyone about US Internet, but became shocked to hear that cheaper internet wasn’t an option for some because of the neighborhoods they lived in. (Fiber networks like Google Fiber and US Internet are often relegated to upper class neighborhoods because of a guaranteed profit). In Twin Cities the current internet service system makes working people in poorer neighborhoods have fewer, but more expensive, internet service provider options.