Federal funding will help MN students get online

KSNI radio reports

Marc Johnson is the executive director of the East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative and sits on the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband. He says the new funding, coupled with the $70 million in broadband spending already approved by the state this year, will be a welcome shot in the arm for rural students. He says during distance learning, getting lesson plans to students who didn’t have good internet access was extremely inefficient. Schools had to send work “back and forth on buses, you know, to kids so that they could paper copies of things.”

Member school districts of the cooperative are Braham, Cambridge-Isanti, Chisago Lakes, East Central, Hinckley-Finlayson, Milaca, Mora, North Branch, Ogilvie, Pine City, Princeton, Rush City, Pine Technical College, St. Francis, and associate member Elk River.

He says the broadband relief takes financial pressure off school districts and families as they “won’t have to spend the money that they’re spending right now on all of these measures to help families that don’t have access.”

Minnesota has a Broadband Office, Task Force, Agency and Fund

Pew has recently updated their database of which states have a broadband office, task force, agency and/or fund. Minnesota remains in a good position having all four. I appreciate the effort it takes to keep current on this info and it’s a good reminder that the source is there and a nice pat of the MN back that we’re in good standing.

President Biden visits MN and encourages investment in infrastructure that will make us a leader

MN Public Radio reports

In his first trip to the state as president Biden said U.S. infrastructure used to be the best in the world, but that it’s been slipping. He said the $1.2 trillion measure will change that.

“We’re going to help America win the competition for the 21st Century,” Biden said. “We’re getting back in the game.”

You can see his speech (I’ve started it where he spokes most about broadband) below…

President Biden seemed to observe a few things – first that now is a time to focus on regaining leadership by investing this unprecedented investment. We need to build back better. We can’t just build what to the specs we have, we need to improve because modern times require and will continue require increased broadband speeds. He notes that we used to be top ranked in global infrastructure; we are now 13. We need to turn it around and that means aim high and act.

EVENT December 3: MN Broadband Task Force Meeting Agenda

The Task Force meetings are remote and open to all. For folks who don’t want to join via Webex/Teams, I will livestream on Facebook and archive.

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
December 3, 2021
10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Microsoft Teams meeting
Click here to join the meeting
Join with a video conferencing device
mn@m.webex.com
Video Conference ID: 119 694 806 6
Alternate VTC instructions

  • 10:00 a.m. – 10:10 a.m.  Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from November 1, 2021 Meeting
  • 10:10 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Office of Broadband Development (OBD) Update
  • 10:15 a.m. – 10:35 a.m. Broadband Technologies and Symmetrical Speeds
    Dave Wolf, CEO, Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Assn.
  • 10:35 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Walk Thru of Draft Report
  • 11:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Break
  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Continue Walk Thru of Draft Report and Next Steps
  • 12:15 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Public Comment, Other Business, December 20th Meeting Plans, Wrap-up

MN Broadband Task Force asks Governor Walz to expedite and increase request for federal funds for broadband

The MN Broadband Task Force sent a letter to Governor Walz, Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman, Senator Erin Murphy, and Representative Debra Kiel…

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act funding that Minnesota is slated to receive, there is a Sec. 604
Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund that is intended to be used “to carry out critical capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options, in response to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).” The U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury), which is charged with administering this fund, notes on its website that a
purpose of this funding is to “contribute to the Administration’s goal of providing every American with
the modern infrastructure necessary to access critical services, including a high-quality and affordable
broadband internet connection.”
In August 2021, Treasury identified the amount of Sec. 604 funding that would be allocated to each state; Minnesota’s allocation is $180,702,620. In September 2021, Treasury issued guidance as to how the Capital Projects Fund dollars may be used and broadband infrastructure projects were identified as a presumptively eligible use.
In the 2021 Minnesota legislative session, language was passed to fund the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant program with $70 million over the biennium and with that funding coming from the Capital Projects Fund. This decision was made prior to either information being released regarding Minnesota’s total allocation or guidance on allowed uses.
Minnesota is required to apply for this funding by December 27, 2021 and once its application is
approved and an agreement signed with Treasury, the state must submit a Grant Plan and a Program Plan(s) outlining how it intends to use the state’s allocation of $180,702,620. The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband would urge the state to submit its application as soon as possible and once an agreement is in place, file a Grant Plan and Program Plan to use all the funding for the state’s Border-to-Border
Broadband Infrastructure grant program. With prompt approval by Treasury, the Office of Broadband
Development could then open a grant window and approve projects in time to be built, or at least started, during the 2022 construction season. As you are aware, Minnesota’s construction season is shortened due to weather and it is imperative to get the ball rolling as soon as possible.
The guidance issued by Treasury indicates that any home or business in Minnesota that does not have a reliable, wireline broadband service of at least 100Mbps download and 20Mbps upload is eligible for this funding. The latest data available shows that there are at least 240,000 households in Minnesota without a broadband connection meeting those speeds. Assuming an average cost of $5,527 per location to deliver a broadband service (taken from the Task Force’s 2020 annual report), deploying service to those 240,000 households would require funding of over $1.3 billion. Even assuming the grant portion for that funding is capped at 50 percent as it is under current state law for the Border-to-Border Broadband grant program, funding of $663 million would still be necessary.
While Minnesota has been a leader amongst the states with its Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure grant program having awarded $126.2 million to reach approximately 57,000 locations with broadband service between 2014 and 2020, the state is falling behind. In March 2021, Wisconsin awarded over $24.8 million for 58 projects, in October 2021 Wisconsin awarded $100 million to 83 projects and in early November announced that the next grant window to award another $100 million will open December 1, 2021. In October 2021, Iowa announced that it would make available another $200 million for broadband grants in addition to the $100 million in grants announced in September 2021 as part of its Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program. A few other examples include Missouri announcing it will use at least $400 million for broadband infrastructure; Ohio is using $250
million to improve high speed internet service; Texas Governor Abbott just signed a bill allocating $500
million for broadband infrastructure; and Virginia has plans to use $700 million to provide universal
broadband by 2024.
The pandemic has made clear the need for fast, reliable broadband service to all homes and businesses in the state. Federal funding is available to get that infrastructure deployed. Broadband is the foundational element that is a force multiplier for all other issues. We need it to better address critical challenges and build economic opportunity, competitiveness, and prosperity. The state has in place a
nationally recognized broadband office and grant program. All that is needed is for the Governor and
the Legislature to direct the available federal funding to the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure grant program so that the real work of building out the infrastructure to meet the state’s broadband
goals can be achieved. The time is now to invest in our communities.
Thank you for your prompt consideration of this request.
Sincerely,
Teddy Bekele
Chair, Governor’s Broadband Task Force

OPPORTUNITY: Applications open for 2022 Lead For Minnesota Fellowship

More info from Lead for America

Lead For Minnesota (LFMN) is a state affiliate of the national non-profit, Lead For America (LFA).  The Lead For Minnesota Fellowship is a launching pad for a lifelong commitment to public service in a community that Fellows call home. This begins with a one-year AmeriCorps Service term where Fellows are placed within a local organization (e.g. nonprofit, government, service-minded organization) to serve in a full-time, paid position addressing critical community challenges. Fellows can renew their fellowship for an additional one-year term, or receive support while pursuing the next step in their civic leadership journey. 
During the Fellowship, all Fellows receive five weeks of leadership and community-building training from leading partners that have previously included the Harvard Kennedy School, Urban Rural Action, and the UNC School of Government. Additionally, Fellows conduct a community Listening Tour to better understand the local landscape of challenge and possibility. Fellows have the option to build on their listening tours by creating a project they lead, called a Community Venture, to address those challenges.
Altogether, Fellows build lifelong relationships with their cohort and mentors and join the hundreds of changemakers in the LFMN + LFA nationwide network. At the conclusion of the fellowship, Fellows have access to LFMN + LFA’s graduate school scholarship partners and can receive support from LFA to continue their locally-rooted impact. What is the Lead For Minnesota Fellowship (Applicant-led)?
Lead For Minnesota has two different fellowship tracks: applicant-led and pre-confirmed placements. The applicant-led process can be thought of as a “create your own” fellowship opportunity. Candidates apply to serve any community in Minnesota where they have a strong connection and have a deep passion for the type of change they want to create. If selected, LFMN works with you to secure a local organization to host your fellowship.
However, it should be noted that even if you apply to be an applicant-led Lead For Minnesota Fellow, you can still be a part of a Challenge-Based Track. For instance, if you apply to serve in Minnesota to work on public health, you can gain the added training and experience of being a member of Lead For Minnesota and our Public Health Equity Corps. To clarify, your Fellowship Type (Applicant-Led or Host-Led) doesn’t limit which Fellowship Pathway you join.

MN Rural Broadband Coalition Membership Renewal and Next Meeting December 15!

I’m going to paste the entire email from the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition. If you’re not a member, you should consider it if broadband is important to your organization…

It’s time to renew your membership for 2022!
We need your help to advocate for and secure consistent public and private investments to support broadband access for all Minnesotans. As you know, the MRBC is the voice at the Capitol for broadband, particularly for the connectivity needs of the rural and underserved areas of our state. Your financial support is essential in ensuring this voice is heard. We truly hope you’ll consider becoming a Sustaining Member of the coalition so that we can meet our annual budget needs of approximately $60,000. In addition, we need volunteers to enhance the work of the Coalition by serving on committees that strengthen that work. Please see the attached document that details your membership and volunteer opportunities.
Download 2022 MRBC Membership Form
Each of you play an important role in achieving our vision of border to border broadband. Our bipartisan and statewide advocacy efforts since our inception have led to over $200 million dollars in legislatively approved funds to support Border-to-Border Broadband grants for infrastructure.  Yet there are still rural Minnesotans who remain unserved by basic broadband service and not every Minnesotan has access to quality, reliable, and affordable broadband. Our work is far from done. We need to continue to advocate for Minnesotans until our vision is achieved. Your investment will help maintain and strengthen the continued success of MRBC’s diverse multi-sector coalition.

Save the Date!
MRBC Meeting
December 15, 2021
9:00 – 11:00 a.m.

Via Zoom
Meeting ID: 865 0500 2903
Passcode: MRBC
One tap mobile:
+13126266799,,86505002903#,,,,*074816# US (Chicago)
+19294362866,,86505002903#,,,,*074816# US (New York)
Dial by your location:
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
+1 929 436 2866 US (New York)
+1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)
+1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)
+1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose)
+1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)
Meeting ID: 865 0500 2903
Passcode: 074816
Find your local number
Agenda Coming Soon!

President Biden coming to Rosemount to talk about Infrastructure bill

WCCO TV reports

President Joe Biden is scheduled to stop in the Twin Cities this week to discuss the federal infrastructure package.

According to the White House, the president is slated to be in Rosemount on Tuesday, where he will visit Dakota County Technical College to discuss how the infrastructure package will help Minnesotans and create good-paying jobs.

Per the Minnesota DFL, the bipartisan infrastructure package will bring billions of dollars to the state, including $4.5 billion for highway programs, $302 million for bridge replacement and repair, $100 million for broadband coverage in greater Minnesota, and $680 million for water infrastructure.

The last time Biden visited Minnesota was in the final days of his 2020 presidential election campaign. Biden won Minnesota with 52.4% of the vote.

Senator Klobuchar on broadband upgrades and infrastructure bill

Alexandria Echo Press posts a commentary from Senator Klobuchar on the Infrastructure bill…

But this month, with the signing of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, we addressed these urgent needs by investing in our nation’s infrastructure. With 19 of my Republican Senate colleagues — including our neighbors Senators Hoeven and Cramer of North Dakota — we finally came together across party lines to pass a bill to fix our crumbling infrastructure and expand broadband access to every corner of Minnesota.

And more…

This is all important, but competing in the 21st century isn’t just about roads, bridges, and ports — it’s also about making sure all Americans can access the internet, no matter their zip code. As co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, I fought to strengthen our broadband infrastructure to make it possible for families across the country to study, work, and connect with loved ones online.

This is especially significant in rural Minnesota, where an estimated 16 percent of households lack broadband at baseline speeds. Because of this federal funding, the high school student in Otter Tail County will no longer need to drive 40 minutes from home to a liquor store parking lot to find adequate wi-fi to take her online biology quizzes. It will also enable doctors in rural areas to provide telehealth services to patients who don’t otherwise have access to quality, affordable care.

As more of our farmers and ranchers get reliable broadband, they will be able to take advantage of precision technology that can monitor field conditions like soil health and crop growth and log weather. Increased access to high-speed internet will also make it possible for tractors with wireless connections to send real-time data back to farms, helping farmers control pests and manage runoff. This not only supports our local farms but also protects our nation’s food supply.

Federal funding should boost Minnesota’s infrastructure report card grade

Detroit Lakes Tribune Editorial Board says…

Minnesota got an overall grade of C on its most recent infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which may not sound so bad, but that includes a D-plus on its roads, Cs or C-minuses on its bridges, transit, dams, drinking water and energy, and a B only in aviation.

Here’s what they say about broadband…

Broadband: Minnesota will get about $100 million to widen broadband coverage across the state, including coverage for the 83,000, or so, Minnesotans who now lack it. And more than a million Minnesotans will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access.

Senator Klobuchar Call with Benton, Chisago, Isanti County Officials on how Infrastructure Bill will Expand Rural Broadband: Notes and archive

Here’s the intro…

On Monday, November 22, at 2:00pm CT, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, will hold a call with community broadband advocates from Benton, Chisago, and Isanti Counties to discuss how the recently enacted bipartisan infrastructure bill will help expand broadband to rural Minnesota communities.

Klobuchar will be joined by Chisago Lakes Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Katie Malchow, Isanti County Administrator Julie Lines, and Benton County Commissioner Jared Gapinski, as well as Mary Magnuson, a broadband program administrator at the Blandin Foundation.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill included the largest investment our country has ever made in broadband infrastructure, with many provisions based on Klobuchar’s legislation with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) to help bring high-speed internet to every corner of the country.

And my notes, which are bulleted to keep up. From Sen Klobuchar:

  • Broadband coverage seems random at times
  • Blandin was way ahead of its time in recognizing broadband issues in rural Minnesota and creating solutions
  • Access to email isn’t enough anymore; students need to be able to take tests remotely and corporate/healthcare workers need to be able to consult remotely
  • Problems: mapping, giving money to providers that have a history of not meeting needs
  • Solutions: open access to funds to all providers and get money back from providers who don’t meet needs
  • Make broadband affordable – average monthly cost in MN is $68/month

From Katie Malchow

  • Broadband isn’t about politics, it’s about getting people connected
  • We started out broadband journey working with Blandin Foundation
  • We surveyed residents and found a disconnect between what providers said they offered and what consumers saw at home
  • Not all providers are created equal and some have not met the needs of MN residents for a while now. Maybe it’s time to ask folks on the frontlines who they would choose.
  • This is going to be a one-time investment, it’s spend it wisely.

From Jared Gapinski

  • Started talking about broadband as community in Jan 2020 (he’s new to county commission) in Jan 2021 when they realized they have 600-700 hotspots in student home, which meant that many households were un/underserved
  • They want to do a middle mile fiber project to get providers into the area
  • He pays for 100/100 Mbps connection – but it tests at 30/11
  • The community is stuck in RDOF/LTD limbo – waiting to hear from FCC is LTD got the contract
  • We need time to plan and educate to make sure we spend money wisely.

From Julia Lines

  • Broadband coverage is good in the cities but bad in the land between
  • East Central Energy is (finally) talking to them about providing broadband
  • The boundaries of cities/towns/counties are getting in our way
  • MidCo is helping in the cities but not rural areas
  • If we want people to relocate from the Cities to rural areas, we need to provide metro-quality broadband

From Mary Magnuson

  • We worry about the Swiss cheese effect that leaves certain areas unserved and as others become better served those areas fall farther and farther behind
  • RAMS is now hosting the MN state broadband speed test – available to everyone
  • Local places need to have local buy in – especially when it comes to choosing providers in their communities

Jackson County looking at state broadband grant – outside of potential LTD-claimed RDOF areas

The Jackson Pilot reports

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday heard from Federated Rural Electric regarding plans to apply for a state grant to expand broadband in rural northwest Jackson County.

Federated General Manager Scott Reimer said the co-op wants to build out fiber to the home in rural Jackson County, adding the Heron Lake area is a good place to start because it was not put up for auction in the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction.

The move comes on the heels of controversial behavior by two companies, Nextlink and LTD Broadband, which mopped up large swaths of territory at the auction, including most of Jackson County. LTD in particular has been accused of failing to acquire the proper licensing in states it has bid to build in, resulting in it being kicked out from those states and being unable to build out commitments in those areas.

“They’ve been denied in several states because of that,” said engineer Chris Konechne, who is working with Federated on the grant. “Minnesota will be the last shoe to drop because they were founded here.”

Surveys have indicated an interest among the roughly 201 people who might be served by the project and Reimer said the application is the next step in Federated’s broader goal of building out fiber Internet service in all areas of Jackson County that lack it.

Up to $520,000 could be funded through the grant.

Austin MN Leadership team working with Blandin Foundation to get better broadband

The Austin Daily Herald reports

An effort to bring stronger broadband internet service to Austin and the surrounding area is gaining momentum following a meeting Thursday, led by the Blandin Foundation.

Featuring leaders and citizens throughout the area, the effort is working toward the end result of improving internet infrastructure using grant funding from the new Blandin Broadband Community Vision program. Austin is one of six Minnesota communities taking part.

The grant funding maxs out at $100,000, and while not enough to answer every question, it is enough to get the wheels rolling on a process that once in motion can feed itself and help grow the community and answer a common question.

“Expanding access to technology, whether it’s the internet connectivity, whether it’s the devices, whether it’s digital literacy,” said Jayne Gibson, executive director of Austin Aspires, to the over 40 people taking part over Zoom Thursday. “It’s not a new conversation in our community.”

The meeting took participants through key areas important in reaching this goal, and included city leaders speaking directly to some of the smaller goals as well as many of the challenges.

The time was followed by breakout sessions where people looked at current resources, challenges and opportunities.

Increasing broadband access to the area has been a goal for a number of years, dating back to the 10-year period of Vision 2020. But it’s also been at the core of funding challenges.

MN Hospitals receive funding from FCC for telehealth

Fox9 reports

St. Paul’s Regions Hospital is receiving $1 million of federal funding for telehealth services.

The funding comes from the Federal Communications Commission’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith announced Thursday. It will be used to buy a remote patient care telehealth platform.

“The pandemic has shown us how telehealth services have been a lifeline for patients across Minnesota who may otherwise not be able to access the health care they need,” said Smith in the press release. “This funding will help Regions Hospital continue to use telehealth to make health care accessible to patients who are unable to get services in person.”

Along with the $1 million for Regions Hospital, Klobuchar and Smith secured funding for the expansion of telehealth services for these health providers in Minnesota:

  • $21,533 for Native American Community Clinic in Minneapolis
  • $498,818 for Minnesota Community Care in St. Paul
  • $234,352 for CentraCare Health System, the largest provider for rural Minnesota communities
  • $120,305 for Nett Lake Health Services in northern Minnesota
  • $981,204 for Essentia Health in Duluth

The funds will allow providers to expand patient access by purchasing more telehealth equipment like laptops and monitoring devices, as well as increase wireless broadband coverage at several clinics.

Libraries without Borders work with Hibbing MN on Health and Wellness curriculum

From the Libraries without Borders newsletter…

Building on the work we’ve done in manufactured housing developments in Minnesota, LWB US will be launching our newest program with the Housing & Redevelopment Authority of Hibbing, MN and the Hibbing Public Library.

From November 2021 to March 2022, we will be designing and implementing a Health and Wellness curriculum for 102 families in Haven Court. The need is great. Average annual income at Haven Court is only $13,388 and nearly 60% of residents report a mental and/or physical disability. We will be fighting to ensure everyone in this community has critical access to health information and health services.
This work would not be possible without support from the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM).