Minnesota Senate Committee meeting on broadband on Jan 26

I thought folks might be interested in the upcoming meeting at the Senate Building. I’m posting with one caveat – details with legislative meetings can change and I will do my best to update this note but can’t make any guarantees.

Thursday, January 26, 2017 – 1:00 PM

Committee on Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy
Chair: Sen. David J. Osmek
1 p.m.
Room 1150 Minnesota Senate Bldg.

Welcome and Agenda Overview

Telecom Panel – Brent Christensen, President/CEO, MN Telecom Alliance; Paul Weirtz, State President, AT&T; Bill Jensen, President, Minnesota Cable Communications Association; Anna Boroff, Executive Director, Minnesota Cable Communications Association

Wind on the Wires – Jeremy Wacker, Director, Wind-Blattner Energy; Shanelle Montana, Senior Project Developer; EDF Renewable Energy

Center for Energy and Environment – Mike Bull, Director of Policy and Communications; Joe Sullivan, Manager of Strategic Relations

Rep Hamilton applauds MN broadband grants and challenge process

AgWeek features a Letter to the Editor from Representative Rod Hamilton. He applauds the grant challenge process…

Thanks to GOP-led efforts, $32 million of the $35 million in grants were targeted toward unserved areas of the state. Additionally, because of policy reforms to the program, the Minnesota State Broadband fund leveraged Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) federal broadband funding to amplify connectivity into rural areas of the state. In total, Minnesota is expected to see half a billion dollars in combined state and federal broadband funding between 2015 and 2021.The legislature approved a total of $45 million in broadband grants during the 2015 and 2016 legislative session. When combined with federal CAF II funds, Minnesota will see more than $100 million in broadband expansion this year alone.

It’s great to see that investment happening in rural areas – although I think it’s helpful to remind folks that the CAF money only requires providers to upgrade to 10 Mbps down and 1 up (10/1) access, which is much slower that short term (25/3 by 2022) and long term (100/20 by 2026) Minnesota broadband speed goals.

He also mentions projects funded in his area…

A total of $2.94 million will be used by Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company for Nobles County broadband. This project will serve 469 unserved households, 1,060 unserved businesses and six unserved community anchor institutions in Nobles County. Lismore Cooperative and other partners will provide services that improve opportunities for health care, education and telecommuting.

Westbrook will also receive $412,391 through Woodstock Telephone. This project will serve 368 unserved households, 29 unserved businesses and seven unserved community anchor institutions in Westbrook in Cottonwood County. Woodstock will improve services that encourage business growth and more access to health care, education and telecommuting opportunities.

Lifeline Broadband Update Webinar Feb 21

Promises to be a good discussion from NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance)…

The addition of broadband service to Lifeline occurred in December.  NDIA affiliates spend a lot of time and energy  searching for and keeping track of low-cost broadband offers for their community members.  We are at the very early stages of implementation of the new Lifeline program and this webinar is a check-in for where we are now and the current trajectory for the modernization changes.

Save the date now for a conversation about Lifeline broadband featuring Olivia Wein, attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.

This special NDIA webinar  will take place…

February 21, 2017
1:00-2:00 Eastern
at https://zoom.us/j/4320943209

No RSVP is required.

I’ll set the stage with an update on low-cost broadband offers available, how the different offers were mandated, and how you can find information on the offers.  Olivia will discuss:

  • Which ISPs must offer a Lifeline broadband service? How does one determine if an ISP has a Lifeline obligation and in what geographic regions must they provide service?
  • Who else can be a Lifeline Broadband Provider?
  • What are the minimum service standards for wireless and wireline providers?
  • How does one apply for Lifeline? What is the current process for signing up and how will that change when the verification platform is live? What are the timelines for the new enrollment process?

Please join us for this important discussion!

Strategies and Recommendations for Promoting Digital Inclusion

The FCC recently released their Strategies and Recommendations for Promoting Digital Inclusion. The report paints a picture of what the digital divide looks like today –

  • Americans with the lowest incomes are most likely to go without broadband at home.
  • Americans who are more likely to have low socioeconomic statuses due to historical and systemic barriers to education, opportunity, and adequate housing are least likely to have home broadband connectivity
  • African-Americans and 50 percent of Hispanics subscribe to a home broadband service, compared with 72 percent of White Americans
  • A rural-urban divide persists as well
  • People with disabilities and older adults are also more likely to go without a home broadband subscription
  • Perhaps one of the starkest divides in broadband access and adoption exists in Indian Country, where broadband is often unavailable

They also talk about national and local efforts to close the divide. It was nice to see the Blandin Foundation mentioned…

Example: The Blandin Foundation serves rural Minnesota by strategically allocating grants to organizations that support broadband access, adoption and digital literacy through its Community Broadband Resources Program. The foundation supports a number of community projects throughout the state. For instance, in Nobles County, grantees are working to establish Wi-Fi hotspots to provide access to unserved residents. In Chisago County, where broadband is expensive, slow, or unavailable, Blandin undertook a community survey to paint a picture of the divide that exists for lawmakers and providers. As a result, providers have expanded service and rolled out significant service improvements. In Stevens County, the foundation supported a consortium of school districts that developed a broadband-based system for providing specialized distance learning for students with disabilities. And in the Central Woodlands area of the state, a Blandin-funded pilot project assisted local businesses with adopting e-commerce and as a result, the program has expanded to help businesses in surrounding areas. All of these institutions, and the others that Blandin supports, have targeted-mission specific needs that are unique to their rural geography. As a community foundation, Blandin is uniquely situated to appreciate and assess those needs and support groups accordingly.

And they made recommendations. I’m going to try to shorthand them below (they are detailed in the report)..

Outreach & Education

  • Consider the creation of an online hub that catalogues digital inclusion resources by state
  • Consider convening a series of in-person and online National Digital Inclusion Summits across the country
  • Consider hosting a separate meeting to bring together representatives of Tribal libraries with representatives of non-tribal libraries and researchers
  • Consider increasing outreach to people with disabilities and their representatives


  • Commission, along with partners at the Department of Education and other interested federal agency stakeholders, may wish to explore ways to facilitate relationships in states between workforce development programs and community colleges
  • Bureau’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs(IGA)may consider engaging and working with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, the National Association of Utility Consumer Advocates, and local government representatives including the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors to identify and connect community anchor institutions and grassroots organizations
  • IGA and the Office of Native Affairs and Policy could also liaise with state and local governments to explore partnerships between cities and/or states and nearby Tribal governments and Tribal libraries


  • Support Lifeline Aggregation Projects
  • Make Purchasing ISP Services Simpler and More Transparent
  • Support Using the Educational Broadband Service to Provide Service to Underserved Areas
  • Support Using Existing Federal Legislation to Promote Digital Inclusion.

Broadband Opportunity Council progress report: much was done, much remains and plan is to continue on

The Broadband Opportunity Council (BOC) released a progress report. Like many of the reports that have been released by federal agencies, it’s a benchmark of what has happened and what remains to be done. Here was the overarching goal of the BOC…

President Obama in March 2015 signed the Presidential Memorandum on “Expanding Broadband Deployment and Adoption by Addressing Regulatory Barriers and Encouraging Investment and Training,” (Memorandum) creating the Broadband Opportunity Council (Council).1 The Council included 25 federal agencies and departments with missions or programs with the potential to drive broadband infrastructure investment and adoption. The Memorandum asked the Council to produce specific recommendations to increase broadband deployment, competition, and adoption through executive actions within the scope of existing agency programs, missions, and budgets.  Agencies were directed to use all available and appropriate authorities to:
* Identify and address regulatory barriers that may unduly impede either wired broadband deployment or the infrastructure to augment wireless broadband deployment;
* Encourage further public and private investment in broadband networks and services;
* Promote the adoption and meaningful use of broadband technology; and otherwise
* Encourage or support broadband deployment, competition, and adoption in ways that promote the public interest.

In September 2015, the BOC released a report that included 36 actions for agencies to take; 15 have been completed and progress has been made on many other items. Actions focused on the following recommendations…

  1. Modernize federal programs to expand program support for broadband investments.
  2. Empower communities with tools and resources to attract broadband investment and promote meaningful use.
  3. Promote increased broadband deployment and competition through expanded access to federal assets.
  4. Improve data collection, analysis, and research on broadband.

You can check out what’s been done and what hasn’t in the publication. The list is really too long to include here. They do include a plan to move forward…

The final Principals’ meeting of the Council during the Obama Administration was held on November 9, 2016. During the meeting, agencies agreed that the important work of the Council should continue through an interagency working group to be jointly chaired by NTIA and RUS. …

As noted in this progress report, agencies will continue to implement their action items. As agencies complete their action items, NTIA will post updates to the BroadbandUSA website and will coordinate with the agencies to make information available via other public events and announcements.

Blandin Webinar Archive: 2017 Legislative Preview

For folks who couldn’t attend, want to see it again – or as we heard from one viewer – didn’t have enough broadband to view, here are the notes and video of the webinar yesterday…

Join us for our inaugural 2017 webinar to learn what broadband issues will be discussed at the Legislature this year. We will hear from both industry and community perspectives about the grant funds, the Office of Broadband and various niche considerations that impact the availability and affordability of broadband, especially in rural Minnesota.

Brent Christensen, president of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance, will provide the telephone industry perspective.  Laura Ziegler of League of Minnesota Cities, Steve Fenske of the MN Association of Townships and Mark Erickson from the City of Winthrop (and other hats) will discuss what they hope to see accomplished over the next several months.

WNAX Radio covers upcoming broadband funding controversy in MN Legislature

The stories about the expected discussion on broadband funding in the 2017 Legislature continues on WNAX

Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith says funding to expand broadband Internet access in Greater Minnesota is a “really important” part of Governor Mark Dayton’s agenda for the 2017 legislative session. Smith says the current strategy for expanding broadband in Greater Minnesota is working and the state needs to keep at it

Republicans say the private sector is upgrading Internet service in Greater Minnesota and there’s no need to spend taxpayer dollars. Smith disagrees, saying companies won’t expand broadband in rural areas where it’s not profitable, and that’s where government must step in.

Hear the report on the WNAX website.