MN Legislators still working on broadband but feel it’s a point of agreement

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Lawmakers set the state’s two-year budget last session and there are no requirements for them to do anything this year, but Republicans remain steadfast in pushing for permanent tax cuts to give some of the surplus back to Minnesotans. Democrats have favored smaller one-time tax rebates and credits.

“While we’re open to finding common ground in public safety and education, maybe broadband and some other areas, we also remain focused on putting money back in the pockets of Minnesotans,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona.

The governor and top legislative leadership shuttled in and out of meetings all last week, tight-lipped about what they were discussing behind closed doors. Most of the public discussion took place in joint committee meetings between the House and Senate, where the two parties aired the differences in their plans.

I have been out of town but scanning the Conference Committee last Thursday and trying to catch up on the MN Leg notes, it’s looks like broadband is still in discussion. Right now the Senate has $110 million in federal funds to broadband, while the House is looking at $25 from General Funds. So it will be interesting where the common ground will be.

EVENT May 11 (2:45pm): Conference Committee on HF4366 – Omnibus Agriculture, Housing & Broadband

A quick note for folks who want to watch in real time – the Conference Committee is meeting this afternoon and the event will be livestreamed. I will try to watch and capture the broadband discussions; the schedule is subject to change with little warning.

Here’s the info from the MN Leg site…

Location: Remote Hearing
Chair: Rep. Mike Sundin

Agenda:

I. Review of agriculture-related funding provisions that are contained in both bills
II. Review of selected House only agriculture provisions
– MDA IT
– Beginning Farmer Tax Credit
– Bioincentives language
– Hunger relief initiative
– Farm down payment initiative
III. Review of selected Senate only agriculture items (if time allows)
– ACRRA maximum reimbursement/payment increase
– Regulated animal exemptions modified
– Compensation to Certain White-tailed Deer Farmers
– Certain solar energy systems allowed in agricultural preserves
IV. Adoption of same agriculture language items (if time allows)

*House holds the gavel.

HF4366 / SF4019 Omnibus agriculture, housing and broadband bill.

House conferees: Sundin, Hausman, Howard, Vang, Theis
Senate conferees: Westrom, Draheim, Dornink, Pratt, Dziedzic

Meeting material will be posted on the House Agriculture Committee page https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/committees/home/92001

This remote hearing may be viewed via the House webcast schedule page: https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/htv/schedule.asp All events are closed-captioned.

To provide feedback on digital accessibility of meeting information, please submit comments through the Minnesota Legislature Accessibility & Usability Comment Form. If you require an accommodation, please contact John Howe at: John.Howe@house.mn or by leaving a message at 651-296-3208. Please do not contact him with questions about the substance of the meeting agenda. To learn more about requesting an accommodation, please visit the FAQs for Disability Access.

Written comment (PDF file format) submitted to nancy.conley@house.mn and joel.hanson@senate.mn by noon on May 11, 2022 will be posted and shared with members.

Committee Documents:
CC spreadsheet comparison.pdf
Ag appropriations articles side-by-side.pdf
Ag Articles side-by-side.pdf
MN Realtors Written Comment on Housing.pdf
HF4366 SameSimDiff (AgOnly).pdf
HOM Written Comment on Housing.pdf
AARP Written Comment on Broadband .pdf

MinnPost looks at PUC petition from MN Telecom folks focused on LTD Broadband

I mentioned this over the weekend and I suspect there will be more article but this has the potential to be a big deal so I’ll likely post them all.

MinnPost reports

Two trade groups have filed a petition with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission saying LTD Broadband will waste taxpayer time — and money — in the company’s bid to provide high speed broadband to roughly 160,000 people in the state.

The trade groups (MTA and MREA) say…

“Public funding is essential to bring broadband to unserved and underserved areas of rural Minnesota,” says the filing submitted by the Minnesota Telecom Alliance and the Minnesota Rural Electric Association. “But public dollars are limited, making it essential that those who obtain public funding can be counted on to deliver broadband to those areas as intended. The record will show that LTD cannot.”

LTD says…

Corey Hauer, the CEO of LTD Broadband, described the petition as a nuisance given the PUC has already approved the company. He said LTD can grow rapidly to meet the challenge of deploying a massive network of fiber-optic cable, despite having little experience building fiber, and will disrupt the industry like Elon Musk did with SpaceX and Tesla.

“The truth LTD Broadband is exposing is that deploying rural fiber is easier, faster and cheaper than the party line touted by some of our rural … competitors,” Hauer said.

What could happen…

If the PUC sides with the coalition of telecom providers and electric cooperatives, it would be the latest in a string of defeats for LTD Broadband across the country — and another reversal for a company that shocked the broadband industry by winning $1.32 billion in subsidies in 15 states from one of the country’s largest efforts to bring high-speed internet to rural areas.

MN Omnibus that includes Broadband comparison Conference Committee – now each side deliberates

Today the following was held:

Conference Committee on HF4366

HF4366 (Sundin/Westrom) Omnibus agriculture, broadband and housing supplemental finance and policy bill.

Items included:
– Introductory comments.
– Walk through of side-by-sides and spreadsheet by nonpartisan House and Senate staff.
– Agency comments.

I have captured the moments related to broadband. Nothing surprising. And now the plan is for House and Senate to meet separately to decide what they can agree on easily and what will require more discussion. Then they will meet to try to come to an agreement.

MN Senator Goggin gives a legislative update on broadband

Senator Goggin gives a legislative update including info on broadband in the Kenyon Leader

Our Agriculture, Broadband, and Housing bill expands broadband funding, addresses urgent concerns in our agriculture sector, and improves access to affordable housing. …

We are also investing heavily in improving Minnesota broadband connectivity. The legislation directs a historic level of up to $210 million of federal money to improve Minnesota broadband which is on top of the $70 million the legislature passed last session.

The pandemic has confirmed just how important it is to have access to high-speed internet in 2022. It’s no longer a luxury; it is a necessity. We’ve closed a lot of the gaps in our broadband coverage in recent years, but there is still more to do. This bill will get us even closer to our goal.

MTA and MREA ask PUC to revoke LTD Broadband’s ETC designation – could impact RDOF eligibility

Minnesota Telecom Alliance and Minnesota Rural Electric Association filed a petition with the Minnesota PUC to revoke LTD Broadband’s expanded eligible telecommunications carrier (“ETC”) designation and deny LTD’s funding certification for 2023. This would impact their eligibility for federal RDOF money. Regular readers will know that LTD qualified to apply for large amounts of federal funding deployment in Minnesota (and other states) and many are wary of their ability to successfully deploy a FTTH network.

Here is the start of the petition

The Minnesota Telecom Alliance (“MTA”)1 and Minnesota Rural Electric Association (“MREA”)2 hereby jointly submit this petition under Minn. Stat. § 216A.05, subd. 5 to initiate a proceeding to revoke the expanded eligible telecommunications carrier (“ETC”) designation of LTD Broadband LLC (“LTD”) and deny LTD’s funding certification for 2023.

On June 3, 2021, the Commission issued an Order that expanded LTD’s ETC designation to include approximately 102,000 additional locations in Minnesota (“LTD Expansion Order”).3 LTD sought that designation to qualify for $311 million in support under the federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”) to build and operate a fiber-to-the-premise (“FTTP”) broadband network in Minnesota. 4 That funding was part of LTD’s bid to obtain approximately $1.3 billion in RDOF funding for 528,088 locations in 15 states. 5 Since the LTD Expansion Order in June of last year, LTD has failed to obtain ETC designations for RDOF funding in seven of those 15 states. Most recently, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (“SD PUC”) denied LTD’s request for an expanded ETC designation related to RDOF support for 7,481 locations in South Dakota.6 The SD PUC’s decision was based on findings that LTD lacked the ability to build and operate the South Dakota broadband network contemplated in its RDOF bid.

RDOF Contender LTD Broadband Fined for Communicating with Cable MSO

Telecompetitor reports

The FCC has issued a proposed $100,000 fine against LTD Broadband, which was the largest winning bidder in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction. The commission said the company “apparently engaged in prohibited communications” with Cox Communications, which was another winning bidder in the auction.

The FCC’s concerns center on RJM, an investment agent that LTD hired to raise capital for investment in LTD. According to the commission, RJM and LTD never entered into a non-disclosure agreement that would have governed RJM’s activities as required by RDOF rules.

RJM sought investment from Cox and in doing so, shared information regarding LTD’s bids, bidding strategies and bidding outcomes with Cox during a quiet period before the auction started, the FCC said.

GOP Minnesota CD 1 Candidates on broadband funding and expansion

MinnPost asked all nine Republican candidates in MN’s 1st Congressional District to answer a series of questions about their views. Four responded:  Jennifer Carnahan, Bob “Again” Carney Jr., Brad Finstad and Jeremy Munson. Here’s what they had to say …

On Broadband, Carnahan said she supports block grants to states to fund public-private partnerships to build high-speed internet infrastructure. Finstad said investment in rural broadband should be focused on building reliable fiber networks and ensuring mapping of coverage to make sure new networks aren’t duplicative.

“Congress must ensure that all Americans have access to high-speed internet by removing regulations that make it difficult for major investments in rural areas while focusing on “last mile” infrastructure so all Americans have reliable Internet,” Finstad said.

Munson said the government shouldn’t spend billions in taxpayer dollars to support a program that the free market, in his view, already has a solution for. “We have great wireless broadband, like Starlink, which are available anywhere that meet the standards of high-speed internet,” Munson said, referring to the SpaceX service owned by Elon Musk that has drawn praise and criticism from broadband advocates in Minnesota. “The government’s interference will only cause increased internet prices and a chosen few companies to enable broadband in our rural communities.

“Government should not be picking winners and losers and charging taxpayers $12,000 per household to connect forty-year-old technology,” Munson said.

FCC announces latest RDOF winners including Cable One and Gardonville in MN

The FCC reports

The Federal Communications Commission today announced that it is ready to authorize $199,336,695 through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to fund new broadband deployments in 26 states and the Northern Mariana Islands bringing service to over 230,000 locations.  This is the ninth round of program funding since July 2021, when the Commission announced the first approvals for applicant bids meeting the stringent requirements that Chairwoman Rosenworcel put in place to ensure the integrity of the program, which draws on funding in the high-cost universal service program.

Two companies in Minnesota received funds

  • Cable One
    Census blocks: 5
    Locations: 15
    Total Award: $1,293.50
  • Gardonville:
    Census blocks: 10
    Locations: 24
    Total Award: $63903

No word about LTD Broadband

Senators Duckworth and Bruce Anderson talk about passing Agriculture, Broadband, and Housing bill

The Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus reports for Senator Duckworth and for Senator Bruce Anderson

The Minnesota Senate yesterday passed a significant Agriculture, Broadband, and Housing bill to help Minnesota farmers and families. The legislation works to expand broadband funding, addresses urgent concerns in our agriculture sector and improves access to affordable housing.

The Senate has passed a bill for $110 million; the House passed a bill for $25 million. Now they will need to come to a compromise.

MRBC Update: Senate Passes Broadband Package ($110 million)

The MN Broadband Coalition reports…

Senate Passes Broadband Package
The Minnesota Senate passed the Omnibus Agriculture, Housing, and Broadband bill yesterday 41-26. HF 4366 was received by the Senate after it passed the House earlier this week. The Senate amended the bill with a “delete everything” amendment and added their preferred spending and policy package. This includes $110 million for broadband which comes from the Capital Projects Fund. Additionally, they included language that would increase the state’s match from 50% to 75% as well as the line extension pilot program, broadband easements for cable providers, and other language directing the state to spend the forthcoming BEAD funds on the Border-to-Border program.

As a reminder, the House position is $25 million in general fund cash, no federal funding, and raising the match to 75% as well as increasing the project cap from $5 million to $10 million.

The two versions of this bill will be reconciled in a conference committee that will be appointed soon. Typical conference committees are made up of five members from the House and 5 members of the Senate. They will first work through their same and similar provisions and then tackle areas of disagreement. The Legislature must adjourn by May 23 and there is plenty of time for a deal to come together. We will keep you updated as things move forward.

House and Senate Republican Commerce Committee Leaders Share Broadband Program Priorities with NTIA

Benton Institute for Broadband and Society report…

House Reps Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Robert Latta (R-OH), along with Sens Roger Wicker (R-MS) and John Thune (R-SD), sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Alan Davidson outlining their priorities for implementation of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA’s) Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA) broadband programs. The legislators call on the NTIA to:

  • Commit to using the FCC’s new broadband maps, once challenges are resolved, for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program and not rely on other data sources to supplement or substitute these maps;

  • Follow the IIJA’s directions on eligible project areas to avoid overbuilding;

  • Provide an equal opportunity for all broadband providers to compete for grants by not prioritizing municipal networks or networks run by nonprofits or cooperatives, and not favoring certain broadband technologies over others;

  • Avoid unnecessary requirements, such as net neutrality, burdensome labor regulations, and rate regulation;

  • Commit to transparency by allowing the public to provide input and review how the agency arrives at its decisions.

MN House passes Agriculture Omnibus with only $25 million for broadband

Minnesota house reports

Trying to address the lack of affordable housing, lack of broadband internet and to improve agriculture practices, the House passed a sweeping package of supplemental appropriations and policies late Monday.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko), HF4366as amended, serves as the omnibus agriculture, broadband and housing supplemental finance and policy bill. Passed 70-62, the bill heads to the Senate where its version, SF4019, is sponsored by Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake). A conference committee will likely be needed to work out bill differences.

The House bill would appropriate $25 million to the Office of Broadband Development for the Border-to-Border Broadband program. It would also increase the maximum amount for a project from $5 million to $10 million and increase the grant from 50% of the cost to 75%.

It’s nice to see funding go to broadband but it’s anticlimactic to have the House spend $25 million when they started with $100 million.

Ready or not applications for state broadband funding are open May 16

Protocol reports

Alan Davidson, the Commerce Department  official overseeing the disbursement of $42 billion in federal funds for building out broadband infrastructure, told Protocol the “starting gun” of the program will go off May 16, when states can officially start declaring they want the money.

The five-year plans that states are supposed to develop next, though, could hit immediate roadblocks. Those plans are dependent on identifying which areas are unserved and underserved by broadband, as measured on Federal Communications Commission maps that have been delayed for years.

“That timeline depends quite a bit on when the FCC maps are in shape to to be available for that purpose,” Davidson, the administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, told Protocol during a Thursday event on the infrastructure bill’s rollout.

The states won’t be totally on their own, Davidson said: The NTIA has “some great maps” available to compensate for the notoriously insufficient ones the FCC currently makes available. Many states have also done their own mapping, and communities often have a robust sense of local broadband coverage, he said.

“Our hope is that — working with local communities, working with the mapping data that’s available — states can begin their planning,” Davidson said. “Then when we have the final maps, we’ll be able to make those final determinations about allocations and ultimately where to deploy.”

It seems like an unusual way to start.

MN Broadband Task Force April 2022 notes: Funding Options

MN Broadband Task Force met today. They decided to send a note to policymakers stressing the importance of investment in broadband – especially since MN House decreased their budget for broadband from $100 million to $25 million. Also they heard from OMB about various potential funding streams.

More notes Continue reading