MN SF22: $120 million for broadband grants is introduced

The MN Office of the Revisor reports

SF22 is introduced: Broadband grant program money transfer deposit authorization by Senators Bakk  and Tomassoni.
It is Referred to Housing Finance and Policy

And more details

A bill for an act
relating to telecommunications; transferring money for deposit in the broadband
grant program.

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

Section 1. BROADBAND GRANT PROGRAM; TRANSFER.

$60,000,000 in fiscal year 2022 and $60,000,000 in fiscal year 2023 are transferred from
the general fund to the commissioner of employment and economic development for deposit
in the border-to-border broadband fund account established in Minnesota Statutes, section
116J.396, subdivision 1, for the purposes specified in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396,
subdivision 2.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

A similar bill (HF14) was introduced in the Minnesota House today too.

MN HF31: $300,000 for telework is introduced

MN House of Representatives Daily Intro to Bills (Jan 7) reports

Elkins introduced:

  1. F. 31,A bill for an act relating to transportation; appropriating money for telework activities.

The bill was read for the first time and referred to the Committee on Transportation Finance and Policy.

And more details

A bill for an act
relating to transportation; appropriating money for telework activities.

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

Section 1. TELEWORK ACTIVITIES; APPROPRIATION.

$300,000 in fiscal year 2021 is appropriated from the general fund to the commissioner
of transportation for a grant to transportation management organizations that provide services
exclusively or primarily in the city located along the marked Interstate Highway 494 corridor
having the highest population as of the effective date of this section. The commissioner
must not retain any portion of the funds appropriated under this section. The commissioner
must make grant payments in full by June 30, 2021. Funds under this grant are for
programming and service expansion to assist companies and commuters in telecommuting
efforts and promotion of best practices. A grant recipient must provide telework resources,
assistance, information, and related activities on a statewide basis. This is a onetime
appropriation.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

MN HF14: $120 million for broadband grants is introduced in the House

MN House of Representatives Daily Intro to Bills (Jan 7) reports

Ecklund, Sandstede, Sundin, Lislegard and Keeler introduced:

  1. F. 14,A bill for an act relating to telecommunications; transferring money for deposit in the broadband grant program.

The bill was read for the first time and referred to the Committee on Industrial Education and Economic Development Finance and Policy.

And more details

A bill for an act
relating to telecommunications; transferring money for deposit in the broadband
grant program.

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

Section 1. BROADBAND GRANT PROGRAM; TRANSFER.

$60,000,000 in fiscal year 2022 and $60,000,000 in fiscal year 2023 are transferred from
the general fund to the commissioner of employment and economic development for deposit
in the border-to-border broadband fund account established in Minnesota Statutes, section
116J.396, subdivision 1, for the purposes specified in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396,
subdivision 2.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Earlier this week, Senator Bakk said he would push for $120 million for broadband. Last month, we saw that the MN Broadband Task Force was recommending $120 million for broadband.

MN HF1 Economic Assistance including for broadband is introduced in the House

MN House of Representatives Daily Intro to Bills (Jan 7) reports

Noor introduced:

  1. F. 1,A bill for an act relating to economic assistance; providing assistance for housing, the Minnesota family investment program, food, and broadband; appropriating and transferring money.

The bill was read for the first time and referred to the Committee on Housing Finance and Policy.

And more details (I’ve only included the intro and article 4 – the portions that related to broadband.)…

A bill for an act
relating to economic assistance; providing assistance for housing, the Minnesota
family investment program, food, and broadband; appropriating and transferring
money.

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

ARTICLE 4

BROADBAND

Section 1. new text beginBROADBAND GRANT PROGRAM; TRANSFER.new text end

new text begin$35,000,000 in fiscal year 2022 and $35,000,000 in fiscal year 2023 are transferred from
the general fund to the commissioner of employment and economic development for deposit
in the border-to-border broadband fund account established in Minnesota Statutes, section
116J.396, subdivision 1, for the purposes specified in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396,
subdivision 2.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Broadband outages in Southern Minnesota yesterday (Jan 6, 2021): the case for redundancy

Yesterday was a strange day with what I heard one reporter call the “tumult” at the US Capitol. Here in St Paul, that was accompanied with some strange technology false alarms. At 1pm, we had the monthly testing of emergency sirens. Ill-timed but most of us remembered before going too grey. Then an amber alert later in the afternoon hit everyone’s phone and made us jump. (The lost child has been recovered.) However in other parts of the state, technology was failing in a bigger way.

Apparently there was a fiber backbone fiber cut between MN and WI that impacted a number of areas including Mazomanie, WI and Duluth, MN. A discussion on the Outages discussion list details what happened. Sounds like the cut happened while someone was doing underground utility work. Customers experienced issues and reported them. Technicians found and fixed the problem but it took a few hours. The discussion happens over a 6-hour space of time, which might indicate that was likely the (worst case) extent of the outage.

Stuff happens and it takes a minute to fix stuff; this is not a condemnation of any provider. Rather, I think this this makes the case for redundancy. A lot happened in our world from 1pm to 7pm yesterday – can you imagine losing connectivity from that time? Politics, security, safety are foremost in our minds this month – I just wanted to remind folks of the role technology plans in keeping informed and being able to communicate and engage.

Rep Deb Kiel (Crookston) will be looking to extend telehealth support beyond COVID

The Grand Forks Herald provides details on the areas’ legislators and their plans for the 2021 session…

Along with the budget, District 1 lawmakers say their priorities include reopening the economy while limiting the use of peacetime emergency powers by Gov. Tim Walz. They also mention health care needs, including expanding access to providers through telehealth. Minnesota’s legislative session began on Tuesday, Jan. 5.

Rep. Deb Kiel is looking to make permanent telehealth changes made in deference to COVID…

Longtime District 1B Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, also said her priorities include reopening the economy, which she called one of the most pressing issues for her district. The tax dollars generated by businesses are necessary for future budget allocations, she said.

Kiel’s priorities also include health care proposals, an area on which she has focused in her 10 years in the Legislature. Telehealth expands access to residents in greater Minnesota and should not be seen as a reaction to COVID-19, according to Kiel, who is calling for advances made in telehealth to be made permanent. She says the pandemic may have opened the eyes of other lawmakers.

“I couldn’t get anybody to hardly hear the (telehealth) bill four years ago,” she told the Herald.

Kiel said she will prioritize legislation allowing for medical advocates – a family member or trusted adviser who can accompany a patient and speak to their interests. The coronavirus has tightened who can enter health care facilities, out of concern for spreading the virus, but Kiel expressed confidence in allowing an advocate to safely enter the premises with a patient.

“I have found in dealing with health care issues, and pretty serious ones, a loved one, or somebody that you have prepared, would know your health issues and also what you want,” Kiel said.

Internet outage in Red Wing brings us a new form of “snow day”

RiverTowns.Net reports…

Call it a cable day instead of a snow day late start. Shortly before 8 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 5, [Red Wings School]Superintendent Karsten Anderson called for classes to start at least two hours late because one of the community’s two internet companies suffered a line break.

Hiawatha Broadband’s outage reportedly involves a portion of southeastern Minnesota.

“As a result of that outage, many students and staff members do not have access to the internet or to the school learning platform,” Anderson said.

The disruption affects classes for all K-12 students, who are in full distance learning, regardless of whether they still have internet access.

At 9:45 a.m., he issued a second stating that the internet had been restored. K-6 students could log in at 9:50 a.m. High School students were notified how their four-block schedule was revised.

On the one hand this is a fun story on how “snow days” may not be entirely gone. And if you’ve grown up in a cold climate, you probably have a place in your heart for snow days. One the other hand, this is a reminder of how important secure, reliable broadband is at every level. If you’re Internet went out today – what could your family do and not do. The list is different since the pandemic and I think that list is changed permanently.

Legislative updates around Wadena with political reps – broadband makes the list

The Wadena Pioneer Journal reports

The message from area political representatives was clear: the budget takes priority in this legislative session along with election integrity. Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa), State House of Representatives District 9A Rep. John Poston (R-Lake Shore) and Eighth District Congressman Pete Stauber (R-Duluth) each shared the host of discussions to come from supporting small businesses to the need for rural broadband.

The impact of COVID and inherent need for broadband for members came up…

The Senate will operate in a hybrid model with smaller in-person meetings for committees and other representatives joining on Zoom. The House will operate remotely through Zoom, including a fingerprint reader on representatives’ mouse pads for electronic voting, as Poston said. The change replaces voice votes from the 200 representatives that were used in the special sessions in 2020.

And Rep Stauber specifically mentioned broadband…

Stauber also looks forward to possible investing in transportation planning, rural broadband and seeing emergency departments and hospitals prepared for serving the public while keeping them safe.

One of the issues Region Five Development Commission executive director Cheryal Lee Hills and Tri-County Health Care president and CEO Joel Beiswenger want to see addressed is rural broadband for participation in government and access to health care. Hills emphasized how the issue needs to be moved from the backburner and is no longer a luxury. Poston said rural legislators understand the need and battle with metro legislators.

Minnesota Farm Bureau recognizes COVID’s role in making broadband essential in Minnesota

KTOE reports

Minnesota Farm Bureau president Kevin Paap says one of the things he’s learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of reliable broadband, especially in rural areas of the state:

“It was important before but when you’ve got one, two parents working from home. You’ve got multiple children many times learning from home, we really understood the importance of high speed having that width in broadband.”

More than 150,000 Minnesota households don’t have access to high-speed broadband internet, a longstanding disparity.

eNews: MN Monthly Recap: Broadband policy look at 2020 and 2021

Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch twice-monthly online discussion series
Blandin Foundation is kicking off a virtual series for 2021 – the Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch. The second and third Wednesdays of the month from noon to 1pm, you are invited to a shared space to talk on a given topic. Here’s what we have for January:

  • Lunch Bunch on Broadband Infrastructure Jan 13: Everything You Want to Discuss about RDOF
  • Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Equity Jan 20: Share a success story

Governor’s Broadband Task Force Approves Report, Funding Recommendations
The Broadband Task Force met three times during December with a goal to finish and approve the annual report. (They also heard about easement issues.) You can find the penultimate version of the report online. Here are their final recommendations:

  • $120 million per biennium for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program in DEED’s base budget. 
  • $700,000 for the Office of Broadband Development per biennium for staffing and program oversight.
  • Operating annual fund of $1.5 million to the Office of Broadband to address challenges to broadband access. 

Federal broadband funding may upset state grants
The results of the RDOF federal broadband funding awards are creating concern for rural communities – especially in Minnesota. The concern is that the provider who is in line to receive most of the funding in Minnesota is better known for fixed wireless but the funding is to deploy fiber.

An immediate concern is that communities submitted proposals to the Office of Broadband Development before the RDOF announcement was made and are worried that the RDOF award will impact their chances at state funding and/or require changes to their proposals to qualify for state funding. Learn more:

Updated matrix of broadband adoption projects
The matrix of Blandin Broadband Communities has just been updated! It’s a brief description of broadband adoption projects that have received Blandin Foundation support. It’s a great list if you are looking for help or inspiration for your community.

Who is using CARES Act funding for broadband?
Pew looks at what states are doing to apply CARES Act funding to expand broadband and we track what’s happening with counties and cities in Minnesota. (The State of Minnesota decided to not spend CARES funding on broadband at the state level.)

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Impact of COVID-19

Local Broadband News 

Aitkin County
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Aitkin County

Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Cook and Orr (Grizzlies Community)
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Grizzlies (Bois Forte, Cook, Orr)

Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Lower Sioux Indian Community and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
FCC Grants Additional 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window Licenses – including three in MN

Brainerd
Northern Pines Mental Health gives computers to 100 families in Brainerd

Cannon Falls
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Cannon Falls

Chisholm
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Chisholm

Cook County
AT&T to build FirstNet tower in Cook County

Ely
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Ely

Hibbing
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Hibbing

Iron Range
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Laurentian Chamber of Commerce

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Iron Range Tourism Bureau

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: East Range Joint Powers

Solving regional issues: The next step in advancing broadband in northeastern Minnesota from IRRR

Koochiching County
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Koochiching Technology Initiative

Le Sueur, Steele and Waseca Counties
Southern Minnesota looks at impact of RDOF funding to LTD in rural Le Sueur, Steele and Waseca counties

Mountain Iron Buhl
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Mt. Iron-Buhl

Renville and Sibley Counties
Catch up with RS Fiber on latest Muninetworks’ Community Broadband Bits podcast

Rock County
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Rock County

Rosemount
Rosemount City review – included broadband update through Charter

Swift County
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Swift County

Tower
Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Tower Economic Development Authority

Twin Cities
US Internet unveils 2021 broadband plans for the Twin Cities

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

In any other time, I would be starting this column with a breezy Happy New Year and offering platitudes for sunny skies ahead.  Instead, uncertainty tending towards gloom fills the air in my office and over Zoom.

My hope for clear broadband skies has been crushed by the unexpected results of the FCC’s RDOF auction.  Like many, I expected that many, locally-oriented ISPs would win the majority of eligible areas adjacent to their existing fiber-served areas, thus guaranteeing a timely and smooth deployment of affordable and reliable service for a generation. Non-RDOF eligible areas would be reached through provider investment supplemented by the state’s Border to Border grant program and local public dollars.  We would achieve the Minnesota Broadband Vision – rural areas having the broadband infrastructure necessary to attract people and investment.  Communities could then focus on broadband utilization for economic competitiveness and quality of life.

Instead of this expected certainty, we must all now wait for clarity to emerge from the next steps of the FCC process.  Unfortunately, there are many questions, but few answers:

  • Will the FCC approve the engineering and financial plans of winning bidders?
  • What technology will be deployed to achieve the promised Gigabit service?
  • What is the build-out timeline?
  • What about adjacent underserved areas?
  • How will incumbent providers respond?
  • How will state and federal funders adapt their broadband programs?
  • Has the community role changed?

What are your thoughts on the implications of RDOF?  Maybe we can shred some clouds and see some sunshine.  No presentations, just shared conversation.  All are welcome!

Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch
January 13 ~  Noon to 1:00pm
Register Here (for 2nd Wednesdays on infrastructure)

Register for 3rd Wednesdays Lunch Bunch on digital use and equity here

FCC Grants Additional 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window Licenses – including three in MN

The FCC reports

The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau has granted 22 additional applications for licenses to use the 2.5 GHz band to close the digital divide and to provide broadband and other advanced wireless services to rural Tribal communities. These spectrum licenses, which were granted to Tribal entities across the country through the agency’s first-of-its-kind Rural Tribal Priority Window, provide for exclusive use of up to 117.5 megahertz of 2.5 GHz band spectrum that can be used by Tribes to connect their communities.

“We continue to make significant progress in putting this prime mid-band spectrum into the hands of Tribes so they can connect their communities to business, health care, and educational resources online,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Far too many Tribal communities are on the wrong side of the digital divide, and this Rural Tribal Priority Window is making a real difference in helping to bring digital opportunity to these communities. This is one of the initiatives of which I’m most proud during my time at the Commission.”

The Rural Tribal Priority Window was open for applications from February 3 to September 2, 2020. To date, the agency has granted 179 2.5 GHz licenses to help address Tribes’ connectivity needs. FCC staff continues to review and process all applications filed in the priority window. More information on application processing and status may be found at www.fcc.gov/ruraltribalwindowupdates.

Grants awarded in Minnesota:

  • Bois Forte Band of Chippewa MN 0009167226 (Granted File Number)
  • Lower Sioux Indian Community General Council MN 0009157301 (Granted File Number)
  • Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe MN 0009132753 (Granted File Number)

Senator Bakk will push for $120 million for broadband

St Paul Pioneer Press reports on legislative expectations for 2021…

From his perch as potential dealmaker in the Senate’s independent caucus, Bakk said he will push a public construction plan to pay for maintenance and repairs to state buildings. Such a “bonding bill,” which he said could easily top $250 million, might provide fertile ground for horse trading to resolve disagreements over budget priorities. Bakk also said he’ll push for a $120 million plan to improve broadband internet service for those with inadequate options for modern needs.

One wild card: How will the new Congress — and the new White House — approach COVID relief? If they enact additional large spending plans, the pressure will be off state lawmakers to act, although Gazelka is angling to have state lawmakers gain oversight of any such funds. But if Congress fails to act and Minnesotans in economically vulnerable areas continue to be hammered, the situation might change.

In the end, the basic dynamic of the session will probably be this: Democrats will be trying to enact changes, while Republicans will be trying to stop them.

Sen Klobuchar looks at 2021, including broadband

Duluth News Tribune posts a column from Senator Amy Klobuchar, which includes her hope for broadband in 2021…

This pandemic has exposed how critical access to broadband is for staying connected to work, school, health care support, and more. In Minnesota, 144,000 households still don’t have adequate access to high speed internet — including more than 11,000 households in St. Louis County. This is despite the good work we have done together in the past to get significant federal funding to St. Louis, Lake, and Cook counties.

We made progress last year when two of my provisions were signed into law, one ensuring that students with the greatest financial need have access to high-speed internet and one providing funds to help the FCC improve the accuracy of its broadband availability maps.

But more action is needed to ensure all Americans have access to high-speed internet, regardless of zip code. I will continue to focus on making this a reality in the next Congress.

I am also urging the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden to make infrastructure a key and immediate part of its agenda, including not only broadband but roads, bridges, ports, trails, and rail — all so important to northern Minnesota.

A practical look at what telehealth is and needs to be to meet patients’ expectations

The St Paul Pioneer Press recently posted an interesting article on the future of telehealth. It’s a fun look at the practical and a look at the difference between online and in person service and expectations…

In a sterile hospital environment with little more than a magazine to keep them company, most patients are fairly forgiving, and can chalk up a 20- or even 30-minute delay to the demands of the profession.

But online? If virtual care is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., it had darn well better start at 3:30 p.m.

“That took me by surprise,” said Ingham, vice president of Health Information for Allina Health. “We’ve struggled a bit to deal with that. … They could literally be on their couch waiting, and they still get kind of perturbed if you’re running more than a couple minutes late.”

While waits were verboten, suddenly interpreters were easy (easier)…

Since the outset of the pandemic, linguistic interpreters — who once might have taken hours to be tracked down when needed — are entering clinical settings via video screen in a fraction of the time. Family members of immigrants are suddenly able to assist nurses and physicians bridge cultural and language barriers through three-way calling. Doctors are beaming into the living areas of their patients like an old-fashioned home visit or consulting with medical teams to provide in-patient care from across the state.

The COVID19 has been the impetus, but telehealth will outlast the pandemic…

The M Health Fairview system logged some 3,500 virtual care visits last January. That was before the pandemic. By April, with hospitals and clinics scrambling to find safe alternatives to in-person care, that number had grown to 120,000 virtual visits.

For M Health Fairview, which has completed more than 1 million virtual care encounters since March, telehealth in some months has accounted for 80 percent of outpatient service.

Health systems say it’s unlikely they’ll put the genie back into the bottle, even though there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Here are some of the advances and hurdles that will lead us forward….

  • In October, Minnesota-based 3M introduced the new Littmann CORE Digital Stethoscope — a device that makes it possible to listen to a patient’s heart sounds from anywhere, wirelessly, by recording or livestreaming data to a remote provider.
  • Hospitals and community health centers have rolled out team-based meetings by iPad and remote monitoring equipment that allows them to check on patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, to examine their blood levels and to adjust medication from afar.
    Nicholson said that’s an especially important innovation given that dexamethasone — a core treatment for COVID-19 — can raise blood sugar levels precipitously, and there’s not enough endocrinologists available to send to every hospital.
  • There are still plenty of hurdles to come. Using everyday communications technology like FaceTime, Skype and Zoom for patient visits requires a state and federal regulatory framework that allows Medicare reimbursement and other licensing, approvals that had to get rushed into place on a temporary basis in the early days of the pandemic.
    Those rules are still evolving, and in some cases being rolled back. Allina’s Ingham noted that many states require medical practitioners to be licensed in-state. Rules around in-state licensing that were relaxed for virtual care in the early days of the pandemic have since been widely reinstated.
  • “Historically, no one really wanted to pay for virtual visits,” Ingham said. “They would reimburse much much less, if they would reimburse at all. … We can’t work for free.”
    Given the experience of the pandemic, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services appear willing to continue to reimburse providers for virtual care, but it’s unclear the degree to which the private market will do the same once the COVID crisis has passed.
  • Online care also requires that all parties have access to broadband internet, which can be challenging for rural and low-income residents.

Technology is a helper in getting access to mental health support during the holidays

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on the impact the pandemic is having on our mental health and offers some tips to help improve your mental health. Two of the three suggested actions include technology – the other two are recognize when you are feeling down and get some exercise. Here are the tech steps…

  • Telehealth appointments are available: Talk therapy can be well-suited to video or audio-only sessions, and a smartphone may allow more privacy than a home computer. An initial appointment will likely be a screening, potentially followed by a recommendation to start a course of therapy.
    “Telehealth is available. Would I say it’s pervasive? I think it’s working to become pervasive,” said Daniel H. Gillison Jr., CEO of NAMI.
  •  Connect with others: “Connection is a kind of antidepressant,” Duckworth said. Phone calls and video chats are good, but it doesn’t have to be with family — book clubs, Alcoholics Anonymous and grief support groups are all active online now. Don’t be afraid to break the ice for someone else who might benefit from more connection.
  • Use a helpline: Phone-based helplines include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Minnesota Warmline (651-288-0400) and the state Crisis Text Line (Text MN to 741741). The Minnesota Farmer and Rural Helpline is available at 1-833-600-2670 or by texting FARMSTRESS to 898211.