EVENT Feb 18: MN Broadband Task Force Agenda

The agenda is out for next week’s Task Force meeting. New location:

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
February 18, 2020
Land O’Lakes
Room A1-107
4001 Lexington Avenue North
Arden Hills, MN 55164-0101  (directions)


  • 10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. — Welcome, Introductions, Approval of Minutes and Public Comment
  • 10:15 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. — Land O’Lakes Tour (Test Kitchen and R&D Lab) Culinary Center w/Samantha Kelly R&D Lab w/Joana Montenegro
  • 10:45 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.  — Overview of Ag Tech Uses by Land O’Lakes Amanda Neely, Ag Tech Marketing & Strategic Partnerships Vamsi Venigalla, Product Manager, TruTerra Insights Engine
  • 11:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. — Overview of 5G Andy Sackreiter, Director, Radio Access Network, AT&T
  • 12:00 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.  — Lunch Pete Kappelman, SVP, Member and Government Relations
  • 12:30 p.m. – 1:15 p.m.  — Overview of Fixed Wireless Ben Wiechman, Director of Network Strategy and Engineering, Arvig
  • 1:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.  — Update from Subgroups
  • 1:45 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.                     Other Business/March Meeting Plans/Wrap Up


Digital health clinic for men and MN bill to facilitate telemedicine for men

I read a lot of different things in a day. But I don’t read a lot about erectile dysfunction, until this week. I have been reading the bill as they have been introduced this week to scan for anything related to broadband. I have a growing list that I will share soon of items that have a loose connection. Doing that I ran into SF2184/HF2150, a bill to allow telemedicine evaluations to be used for erectile dysfunction medication prescribing. It seemed strange, but again not my wheelhouse.

It made more sense once I ran into an article in Fortune magazine on telehealth…

Telehealth firm Ro just launched what it’s dubbing a “digital health clinic for men” via its men’s health-focused arm Roman.

The company, which has its roots in the direct-to-consumer erectile dysfunction market, has recently expanded its ambitions beyond the men’s health space, including with telehealth services for smoking cessation and a vertical meant to advise women who are about to go through menopause.

But the new effort underscores how important the men’s health business is to Ro’s portfolio.

There’s a tie into medications…

I spoke with Ro’s CEO, Zachariah Reitano, a few weeks ago about a separate project the company was working on—a partnership with drug giant Pfizer meant to leapfrog the company’s rivals in the generic Viagra space.

Here’s how Reitano described the importance of that partnership: “I compare it to buying coffee. You can buy coffee at two different places. All the coffee contains caffeine. But so many things go into making that cup of coffee that go into the quality of that product and experience.”

The comparison is intriguing. And Ro’s efforts in this crowded market could be a signal for how other telehealth companies follow.

So I mention this as a new avenue for telehealth and maybe a civics lesson.

Broadband can meet the needs of emerging farmers and long standing rural residents to encourage rural growth

Today I attended the Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division meeting. I was hoping they might talk more about the Dep of Ag emerging farmers report but I got an interesting overview on hemp, research on ag versus rural economy and emerging farmers. Not as much broadband as I usually like – but an interesting glimpse at ag issues.

According to the State Demographer, Minnesota is diversifying. The percentage of people of color is projected to grow from 14 percent in 2005 to 25 percent by 2035. Also in 2035, the age 65+ group is expected to eclipse the under 18 population for the first time in Minnesota history. The 65+ group will rely on the tax base of the smaller, younger demographic. That’s a challenge. Balance that with the Demographer’s 2017 report (Greater Minnesota: Refined & Revisited,) that outlines differences between rural, urban, small town, larger town counties…

This report also reveals that many Minnesota counties are on the cusp of a new era of slowing or negative natural change, and will be more reliant on migration if they are to grow in the future. Future migration patterns, however, are more challenging to anticipate than natural change, as they are dependent on numerous variable factors—federal immigration policy, local and state economic conditions, changes in how and where workers work, and personal lifestyle preferences.

In short, the State demographer says that rural counties that want to grow need to be welcoming to new Americans. And if they want a strong tax base, they’ll want to entice young people. I’ve seen similar concepts and recommendations outlined in the Thriving by Design work from Growth and Justice. But there’s always a tension in change.

Listening to the emerging farmers, who include the demographic that a county needs to grow, they are pushing against some resistance or at least blindness to their needs. Even hearing about the hemp industry, it’s clear that a new approach to hemp is battling with old regulations and prejudices of marijuana.

It reminds me of when my oldest daughter was 15. She wanted to be a grownup. I wanted her to be a grownup. But we had different ideas of what that meant and how to get there. She’s 21 now and we’re a lot closer on our definitions but there were some heated conversations. I loved, especially during those dark years, when there was easy agreement.

Broadband availability is listed as a top theme in the emerging farmer report. It is a likely point of easy agreement because broadband extends beyond the needs of “emerging” farmers. For established farmers, broadband can support telehealth and help people stay at home. For non-farmers (The Center for Rural Policy started by talking about their nascent research on rural versus farm economy. They early observation seemed to find that the rural economy is larger than the farm economy.), broadband is a tool that supports economic development and education.

Broadband is a point of agreement. Broadband is a tool that helps everyone. Broadband is inherently useful but also useful as a way to unify the needs of new and “old” Minnesotans.

Senator Weber lists broadband as a continued priority for the Legislature

MN Senate Republican Caucus reports…


In 2019, as the only politically divided legislature in the nation, we passed our biennial state budget with bipartisan support. The budget prioritized farm families and farm development across Greater Minnesota through investments in affordable housing, broadband, agricultural research, mental health services, and more. …

In addition, we know access to high-speed broadband internet is absolutely critical for Minnesotans to compete in the modern economy. Last session, we prioritized rural broadband access with an additional $40 million for the Border-to-Border Rural Broadband program. Connecting rural areas is a necessity and it’s something consistently on legislators’ minds.

He doesn’t mention the bipartisan bills (in Senate and House) to recommend $30 million of the surplus budget be added to the $40 million from last year. But those bills, especially in the Senate, are new.

Broadband Bill in Senate (SF3049): Senators recommend $30 million more for broadband grants

Senators Draheim, Simonson, Westrom, Koran, and Utke introduce a broadband bill (SF3049) to the MN Senate. (A similar bill was introduced in the MN House earlier.)

S.F. No. 3049: A bill for an act relating to telecommunications; providing an annual statutory appropriation for the broadband development grant program; appropriating money; amending Minnesota Statutes 2018, section 116J.396, subdivision 3.

Here’s the full text:

A bill for an act
relating to telecommunications; providing an annual statutory appropriation for
the broadband development grant program; appropriating money; amending
Minnesota Statutes 2018, section 116J.396, subdivision 3.


Section 1.

Minnesota Statutes 2018, section 116J.396, subdivision 3, is amended to read:

Subd. 3.

Transfer; appropriation; use.

$30,000,000 each fiscal year is transferred from
the general fund to the commissioner of employment and economic development for deposit
in the border-to-border broadband fund under subdivision 1. 
Money in the account is
appropriated to the commissioner for the purposes of specified in subdivision 2.


This section is effective July 1, 2020. The first
transfer under this section must be made in fiscal year 2021.

The Bill  was referred to Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Finance.

MN farmers upload overnight? Maybe ag policy can change that. Mtg Feb 13 at 9:45am

Tomorrow (Feb 13) at 9:45, the Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division is meeting at the State Office Building (Room 200). I hope to attend and livestream, in preparation I wanted to check out the MN Department of Agriculture’s legislative report on emerging farmers.

The report defines emerging farmers and distills what they learned from a series of listening sessions with farmers across the state. They  broke up the notes into 11 themes:

  1. Financial Barriers
  2. Discrimination/Racism/Sexism
  3. Land Availability and Prices
  4. Health Insurance/Rural Health Care
  5. Available Resources Serve Larger-Scale Agriculture
  6. Education/Training Resources
  7. Climate Change
  8. Market Access and Infrastructure
  9. Culturally Appropriate Resources
  10. Navigating Regulations
  11. And Broadband Availability

Here’s what they say about broadband…

Many participants cited online resources like videos, reports, and peer-to-peer learning platforms as primary methods for finding information about farming. Implicit in these resources is the ability to access and use the Internet. The issue of broadband availability is widely discussed in the State as a key component to rural vitality and viability. (Minnesota Office of Broadband Development). Most efforts in expanding broadband access focus on download speeds of 25 megabytes per second (Mbps), which allows enough speed for video streaming without interference. Minnesota has a plan to achieve statewide 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds by 2022. Currently, 92.7 percent of Minnesotans have access to this level of service, though that number is lower in rural areas with just 83.7 percent of households served at this speed. Further effort to expand broadband service and improve speeds is an important part of supporting emerging farmers’ access to educational resources and networking. 18

One part of the broadband effort that is often overlooked is the upload speed. Upload speeds are important for users that are creating data or content to put online, such as e-commerce sites, or using any sort of smart-farming technology (GPS, sensor-based data collection, etc.) Most broadband initiatives consider upload speeds of 3Mbps as high-speed, but users at this speed are often left with slow or non-usable connections during the upload. Some farmers report leaving their computers on overnight to upload data from their sensors, or they struggle to update social media or inventory on their e-commerce websites.

Broadband is critically important for many rural and urban development strategies, including healthcare access, commerce, teleworking, and continuing education. Both upload and download speeds should be considered in any public or private investments in broadband. Additional attention toward adoption and use, beyond just infrastructure and deployment, is also critical for any broadband initiative.

Compared to racism and climate change, broadband availability seems pretty attainable; it relies on infrastructure and not changing opinions or habits. And once won, broadband can help address other themes – such affordable access to healthcare through telehealth, online access to training resources – even culturally appropriate resources, online market access (via websites, social media and more) and access to information (in multiple languages) and people to help find out about available land or navigate regulations.

Land O’Lakes’ Beth Ford promotes broadband to Economic Club of Minnesota

MPR News reports…

[Beth] Ford, who has headed the 99-year-old cooperative [Land O’Lakes] since 2018, called on more investment in broadband, education and health care. She said her company was even planning to launch a half-dozen rural “service centers” to aggregate high-speed internet, telemedicine and other amenities.

“Every business is a digital business now, every business is a technology business, and agriculture is one of the last sectors to be disrupted,” Ford said. “Especially by e-business and technology.”

She mentions agriculture and mental health…

Networked technology can help bring farming and food production back to profitability, she said, but it isn’t sufficiently available. She said that of the 24 million people who lack access to broadband technology, 19 million are in rural America.

That’s putting food producers at a disadvantage: not just in terms of the technology in their tractor cabs, but in the schools their kids attend, the clinics where they seek medical and mental health care and in the markets where they could find innovations in marketing and distribution, Ford said.

She talks about how big business can help in the community…

She called broadband access a $150 billion problem, and suggested it should be a national priority like rural electrification in the 1930s.

Ford also said Land O’ Lakes was talking to leaders from Microsoft, Amazon and other companies about direct action in some of the more than 7,000 communities where her cooperative has a presence.

“What we want to do is to directly be a convener. To take over a storefront if we can,” she said. “Drop a line in, get some high-speed internet. Have some boosters, have four or five work stations, where kids can access technology to do their homework… take Advanced Placement courses. Where they can pick up fresh groceries.”