MRBC Update: Senate Tucks Broadband Funding into Jobs Omnibus Bill

An update from the MN Broadband Coalition…

Senate Tucks Broadband Funding into Jobs Omnibus Bill
The Minnesota Senate amended the Jobs and Economic Development Omnibus Bill on Monday, June 21 to include $70 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. As we have said in this space before, the Legislature’s final weeks are fluid, and nothing is a sure thing until the vote is completed on a bill. Such is the case with broadband funding this week.
Legislative leadership’s plan for broadband was to include it in a bonding bill. However, as the special session has progressed, Senate leadership became less confident in the prospects of a bonding bill meeting the supermajority threshold necessary to pass the House. Since regular budget bills require a simple majority, they decided to add the broadband funding to the Jobs Omnibus Bill. For those keeping score at home, this is broadband’s third home this year: agriculture, bonding, and now jobs.
The Senate took up the Jobs bill Tuesday, June 22 and eventually passed it 45-21.
We do not know what the House will do with this bill or if the Jobs bill will be the final home for broadband this year. Regardless, the funding is agreed upon by the House, Senate, and Governor and we are optimistic they will not leave Saint Paul without funding it. Leaders have said they want to have the budget closed up by Friday. The state will officially shut down on July 1 without a budget, but various aspects of state government—including campground reservations, state employee layoffs, and road construction projects—will start winding down by the end of this week if the Legislature doesn’t act. They have lots of incentive to get the job done! We will keep you updated.

From MN Broadband Coalition – Action Alert! Broadband Funding

From the Minnesota Broadband Coalition…

Legislators are back at the Capitol for a special session. Budget bills began to move through the process this weekend and we expect them to continue working through June 30. We can’t let them leave Saint Paul without funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program!
Right now, leaders have agreed to put at least $70 million for the grant program in the bonding bill. This bill requires a supermajority approval, which means Republicans and DFLers must vote for it.
We need your help! Please contact your legislators and urge them to pass a bonding bill that includes at least $70 million for broadband funding during the special session. Make sure to let them know you don’t want to see any changes to broadband policy language, too! The Coalition has opposed the proposed policy changes like adding “fixed wireless” to state broadband definitions.
We are asking you to email your state senator and your state representative TODAY and urge them to pass a bonding bill during the special session.
Tell them:

  • Keep their promise at the end of regular session to put $70 million in the grant program.
  • Around 157,000 Minnesotan households lack access to the lowest speeds considered broadband.
  • Pass a clean funding bill without any policy changes.
  • Without a bonding bill, the broadband grant program will have no funding and rural Minnesota will continue to be left behind.
  • Tell them your broadband story! If you have broadband, let them know how it has improved your life. If you don’t, tell them how it would help you and your community.

Contact Info

Please email your local legislators and the four legislative leaders

  • Find your local legislators’ contact information here.
  • Email the four legislative leaders here.
    • Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
    • Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman
    • Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent
    • House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt

MN Legislature is still talking about omnibus bills

In the spirit of honesty, I’m traveling so I’m not sure that this is the latest news but here’s what Pioneer Press is reported yesterday

The Minnesota Legislature on Friday neared the close of the first week of a special legislative session without passing and sending a single budget bill to the governor’s desk.

After briefly debating a jobs and economic development omnibus bill on Friday, the Senate adjourned for the weekend before casting a vote on the measure. The bill was amended to include oil refinery safety measures then abruptly tabled. The Senate a day earlier teed up budget bills dealing with agriculture, commerce, outdoor heritage and higher education for a vote but couldn’t pass them since the House had yet to vote them out of that chamber.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the House on Friday launched an hours-long filibuster over an agriculture and broadband omnibus spending bill. On Thursday, GOP lawmakers spent 12 hours stalling a vote on a commerce and energy bill and they said four budget bills set to come to the floor hadn’t been properly vetted and should return to committees for review.

States go through stages to fund broadband: MN lifted as early adopter

The Benton Institute posts an article from CTC Energy and Technology on the steps that state take to fund local broadband efforts. They outline three stages…

  1. In the first stage, states must develop an overall broadband plan that identifies where improved connectivity is most needed and how those needs should be met.
  2. In the second stage, states design the structure and rules of their broadband funding programs to meet these goals.
  3. In the third stage, states execute their grant strategies and then revise and adjust them for further rounds of funding to incorporate lessons learned in earlier rounds.

And they pull out Minnesota as an early adopter…

States do not progress through these stages uniformly. For example, whereas Minnesota’s grant program was initially developed from nearly a decade of prior state-level strategy development, Illinois moved from planning to grant program execution quickly and efficiently, in part because it benefited from Minnesota’s lessons learned and best practices. Multiple iterations of the Minnesota broadband task force met from 2008 until the state created an administrative entity to execute broadband strategy in 2013, with initial infrastructure grant funding in 2015. The grant program has evolved by using feedback from prior grant cycles to fine-tune its approach and cultivate a pipeline of potential projects. In contrast, states such as Illinois and Virginia learned from Minnesota’s example and demonstrate how the time between planning and program execution can be dramatically reduced. Illinois’s $420 million grants program was launched in 2019, following simultaneous development of the program and availability information-gathering, stakeholder outreach, and strategy development.

While it’s always nice to be an early adopter, the article points out that a good idea will be replicated. Minnesota needs to go through these stages routinely to make sure to stay on top of the game.

EVENT Today (3pm): HF8 (Sundin) Agriculture and Broadband Budget Omnibus

Just got notice on this meeting. One quick note – this is to discussion funding the Office of Broadband Development NOT the Border to Border grants. Those have been moved to infrastructure. Depending on …

AGENDA – Ways and Means Committee – Monday, June 14, 3:00PM (or 1 hour after floor session adjourns, whichever is later) – Remote Hearing by Zoom

NOTE: BILLS MAY BE ADDED

-HF13 (Lillie) Legacy Fund Budget Omnibus

-HF8 (Sundin) Agriculture and Broadband Budget Omnibus

Info on broadband is on the final page of the bill language…

21.14 Section 1. BROADBAND DEVELOPMENT APPROPRIATIONS.​

21.15 The sumsshown in the columns marked “Appropriations” are appropriated to the agency​

21.16 and for the purposes specified in this article. The appropriations are from the general fund,​

21.17 or another named fund, and are available for the fiscal years indicated for each purpose.​

21.18 The figures “2022” and “2023” used in this article mean that the appropriations listed under​

21.19 them are available for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, or June 30, 2023, respectively.​

21.20 “The first year” is fiscal year 2022. “The second year” is fiscal year 2023. “The biennium”​

21.21 is fiscal years 2022 and 2023.​

21.22 APPROPRIATIONS​

21.23 Available for the Year​

21.24 Ending June 30​

21.25 2022​ 2023​ $​ 350,000​ $​ 350,000​

21.26 Sec. 2. DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT​

21.27 AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT​

21.28 $350,000 each year is for the Office of​

21.29 Broadband Development.

Depending on when it actually starts, I suspect I won’t be able to attend but here’s the info…

Meeting documents will be posted on the House Ways and Means Committee website at https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/Committees/Home/92029

Public Viewing Information:

This remote hearing will be live-streamed via the House webcast schedule page: https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/htv/schedule.asp.

MN Broadband Task Force June 2021: broadband and people with disabilities, Emergency Broadband Benefits and MN Leg Update

The Minnesota Broadband Task Force met. They heard from Arc Minnesota on the impact of broadband (good and bad) on people with autism and other disabilities. They also heard from someone from the FCC on the ins and outs on the Emergency Broadband Benefits. They got an update on broadband in the MN legislature, combined with a comment at the end meeting on federal funding. The concern is that funding for MN grants has moved from Ag bill to Infrastructure bonding. The good news is that the Senate has greatly increased their proposed budget for broadband. The bad news is that is likely a starting/bargaining place. The other bad news is that changes in federal policy and lack of specificity in eligible households may create a conflict between what MN and the Feds are doing.

Full notes:

Legislative Update

Today is first day of special session. Workgroups have met behind closed doors. It’s been slow. End of fiscal year is June 30.

Broadband has been confusing. They kept the Office of Broadband Development budget in Ag and program budget (grants) is now in infrastructure. The OBD budget is pretty much set but the grant funding is still in play. Senate wants to put $179 million (entire infrastructure budget) into broadband.

Q: What about the need for majority votes?
A: Not sure how that plays out when this is federal funds into bonding.

Broadband is bipartisan so the hope is that this is something they will push through.

Q: Should the Task Force send a letter?
A: Good point.

PRESENTATION

Presentation by Alicia Munson, Chief Program Officer, The Arc Minnesota and Maren Christenson, Multicultural Autism Action Network/Arc Minnesota Board of Directors

We address the needs of kids with autism, who often come from families without a lot of resources .Access to broadband is a big part of providing services.

One big barrier for our clients is stigma.

Programmatic Values:

  • Human and Civil Rights
  • Self-Advocacy and Self Direction
  • Equity and Belonging
  • Racial and Disability Justice

Broadband Access and the Disability Community

  • Education
  • Healthcare and quality
  • Neighborhood and built environment
  • Social and community context
  • Economic stability

Online tools (such as Zoom meetings) have made things more accessible for some people, depending on disability and broadband access.

You might think that most people with people disabilities live in the Twin Cities. Percentage-wise that isn’t true and comparing maps you can see there are some areas with low broadband and high disability percentage.

Policy Recommendations

  • OBD job opportunities for people with disabilities
  • Interagency collaboration
  • Representation for people with disabilities on Task Force
  • Broadband grants – consider weighting grants based on work with people with disabilities
  • K12 Connect Forward Initiative
  • Grants to Supplement tech access
  • Ongoing tech support

PRESENTAION

FCC Emergency Broadband Benefit Presentation by Dave Savolaine, Consumer Affairs and Outreach Division, FCC

What is EBB? (Learn more: https://www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit) It can mean:

  • $50/month subsidy for broadband – but paid to provider
  • $75/month subsidy for broadband on tribal area
  • $100 one-time discount for computer if you buy through your provider
  • (reduced bill for customer not a check)

Who Is Eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program?

A household is eligible if a member of the household meets one of the criteria below:

  • Has an income that is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline;
  • Approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020 and the household had a total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

How long will this continue?

  • Until the funds run out OR six months after the Dep of Health decide the pandemic is over

SUBGROUP UPDATES

Yvonne:

  • Working on plans for an in-person meeting.
  • Heard from Chris Mitchell
  • Going to hear from Community Broadband Access Network

Nolan:

  • No recent meetings (although some met in May)
  • Looking for a speaker from industry – guy from Lumen didn’t work out
  • Paul Solsrud with talk about CNS mapping tool

Paul:

  • Nothing new to share

Updates:

  • They have maybe found someone to write the next task force report.
  • The July agenda is set

Biden made recommendations on America Rescue Funds. At first it looked good for broadband. But not they are focus on households without “reliable access to 25/3” and there’s no real definition for this. AND combine that with the movement at State level of funding from Ag to bond infrastructure – and we’re in danger of having funding get lost in the red tape.

July agenda

  • CNS (mapping)
  • Dep of Transportation (IoT)

EVENT Jun 15: Rural Broadband & Telehealth Financing

Looks like an interesting session…

Rural Broadband & Telehealth Financing
Tuesday, June 15 at 2:00 PM Eastern —
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many disruptions in our daily lives and highlighted disparities among communities. Schools have gone remote, healthcare providers have increased seeing patients virtually, and small businesses have shut their doors to in-store customers. These disruptions have particularly impacted rural communities where there is already a gap in accessing high-speed internet.

Join us for the CDFA // BNY Mellon Development Finance Webcast Series on Tuesday, June 15 at 2:00 PM Eastern to hear experts explain how rural communities can embrace the challenges of financing high-speed internet for the economic and societal gains provided by broadband.

Speakers:

  • James Young, Vice President, The Bank of New York Mellon, Moderator
  • Caitlin Cain, Vice President and Rural Director, Local Initiatives Support Corporation
  • Lindsay Miller, Of Counsel Attorney, Ice Miller LLP
  • Kenneth Neighbors, Partner, McGuireWoods LLP

To participate, register below. You will receive the login information on the day of the webcast. Registration is free and open to all interested parties.

Get Engaged! Contact Allison Rowland.

MRBC Legislative Update: Special Session Broadband Funding

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Legislature Convenes Special Session
The Minnesota Legislature convened its first Special Session of 2021 on Monday, June 14, at the Capitol in Saint Paul. There is a lengthy list of things legislators need to accomplish, including the constitutionally mandated two-year budget and other priority items like an infrastructure (bonding) bill, police reform measures, various policy bills, a tax bill, and the governor’s emergency powers extension. The state will enter a government shutdown if a budget is not passed by July 1. If this seems like a lot to tackle in two weeks, you’re right. However, leaders expressed optimism this week that they believe the job can be done.
Broadband in the Bonding Bill
Funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program was moved from the Agriculture Committee to the Capital Investment Committee. Legislative leaders said after the regular session ended that the funding will be in the bonding bill and would come from the Capital Projects Fund given to the state through the federal American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress earlier this year. The agreement at the end of the regular session was $70 million over the next two years. A bonding bill requires a supermajority vote in both chambers, so it is more difficult to pass.
Note: Even though the funding is in the bonding bill, the money will not come from state bonds. It will simply be an item within the bonding bill.
We expect House and Senate Capital Investment Committee Chairs will exchange offers several times during the next two weeks, so funding levels and location may change! However, we believe broadband is in the strongest possible position to receive a significant investment.
Call to Action
Keep an eye out for a Call-to-Action letter-writing soon. We will send this out via the Coalition list sometime this week. So, be prepared to have your organization’s members write and call their legislators and the governor about why broadband funding is so important!

US 2021 Digital Equity Act proposes $1 billion in grants for digital inclusion

NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) reports

Originally introduced in April 2019 by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (WA), and reintroduced in 2021 the Digital Equity Act proposes to authorize more than $1 billion in Federal grant funding over the next five years to support digital inclusion programs throughout U.S. states and territories.

The Senate bill has been cosponsored by Senator Portman (OH).

The Digital Equity Act would create two major Federal grant programs, operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), to promote digital equity nationwide. The proposed funding for each program is $125 million per year for five years — a total of up to $1.25 billion.

One program would be carried out through state governments, with funding allocated by formula, and would incorporate state-by-state digital equity planning followed by implementation grants to qualifying programs.

The other would be an annual national competitive grant program, run by the NTIA, to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, and/or communities of interest anywhere in the U.S.

The Digital Equity Act references definitions of “Digital Inclusion” and “Digital Equity” developed by NDIA.

The NDIA has a host of tools to understand more, act and spread the word.

EVENT June 14: MN Governor’s Task Force on Broadband

Everyone is welcome and they always leave room for public comments. I plan to livestream on Facebook too…

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband

June 14, 2021

10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. 

ZoomGov meeting

Join on your computer or mobile app

Click here to join the meeting

Or call in (audio only)

(669) 254-5252

Meeting ID: 161 548 9756

Passcode: 543376

10:00 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from May 24, 2021 Meeting

10:10 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Legislative Update by Deven Bowdry, DEED

10:15 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Presentation by Alicia Munson, Chief Program Officer, The Arc Minnesota and Maren Christenson, Multicultural Autism Action Network/Arc Minnesota Board of Directors

11:15 a.m. – 11:20 a.m. Break

11:20 a.m. – 11:50 a.m. FCC Emergency Broadband Benefit Presentation by Dave Savolaine, Consumer Affairs and Outreach Division, FCC

11:50 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Subgroup Updates

12:15 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Public Comment, Other Business, July Meeting Plans, Wrap-up

Study finds the FCC Could Waste Up to $1B Due to Bad Map Data

Government Technology reports

It’s common knowledge that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has utilized misleading map data to measure broadband coverage and award funds, but critics don’t always cite how much taxpayer money is wasted as a result.

A Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) white paper released yesterday estimates the FCC could “improperly send” anywhere from $115 million to $1 billion to “wealthy, densely populated census blocks that have one or more service providers offering high-speed broadband.”

The money comes from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which was awarded to areas in an initial phase last year based on Form 477 data, a widely criticized set of information.

It looks like the CCA was funding the same things I was finding when I dug into the maps and found that the Viking Practice Facility was listed as unserved. I don’t think there are many people that would argue the concerns with mapping – the question is will they do something about it before they invest!

Political parties are that broadband is needed but not on the solutions

Vox details the differences in how Republicans and Democrats see broadband. First there was a difference in the investment…

While Republicans and the White House are still debating the cost of the overall infrastructure package, they have come to an agreement on how much the package should spend on broadband — $65 billion — after Biden agreed to compromise last week. The new figure represents a significant reduction from his original broadband proposal, which had a $100 billion price tag. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the decision was “all in the spirit of finding common ground.” It appears the details are still being figured out.

There is a debate about investing in public versus private providers…

One key disagreement is a long-simmering debate over the idea of municipal broadband. Throughout the United States, some local governments, nonprofits, and co-ops have made long-term investments to build their own broadband networks without relying on the private sector. Biden is a big fan of this approach. The White House calls these municipal broadband networks “providers with less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.” Notably, large cable companies that benefit from being the only provider in many areas don’t like this competition, and they have even lobbied for legislation banning them. Broadband Now, an internet provider website, says municipal broadband is now restricted in at least 18 states.

There is a debate about whether to invest in now or the future…

Public versus private investment is not, however, the only fault line in the recent bipartisan consensus over funding broadband. There’s also long and ongoing disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over what kind of technology should be deployed to facilitate these internet connections. Right now, many get their internet routed to their homes through coaxial cable networks, while some are still dependent on DSL-copper phone lines, which are even slower. Biden thinks that should change, and that US broadband should be high-speed and “future proof,” a term Republicans have interpreted as code for fiber. Fiber, advocates have argued, would last for decades and could be easily adjusted to account for higher and higher speed demands.

But Republicans have said that the Biden definition of high-speed and “future proof” would make too many households eligible for subsidies that could go to people who don’t necessarily need internet updates.

Minnesota voice on federal broadband call – “hiding in car with hotspot to do work online”

Public News Service reports

Vice President Kamala Harris hosted a virtual listening session on the digital divide affecting many parts of America.
A Minnesota woman, who is a college student and mother, was able to relay her story to the White House this week.
Amanda Schermerhorn, federal legislative advocacy fellow for Lead Minnesota, a recent graduate of Minnesota State Community and Technical College and mother of four, talked about her balancing act, which included helping her kids with remote learning, while also trying to manage her online classes.
“I found myself hiding in my car on my mobile hotspot, often, trying to do my work while my kids were on their Zoom classes, or even in the parking lot of my closed college campus,” Schermerhorn outlined.
Schermerhorn plans to further her college career and work as a civil-rights attorney. She emphasized her family was able to persist.
Advocates for expanding broadband access say such examples are too common. The Biden administration proposed $100 billion in broadband funding in its infrastructure plan. And while boosting access has bipartisan support in Congress, Republicans have said the overall public-works plan is too large.
Schermerhorn pointed out her family’s rural setting has played a large role in their inability to stay connected at a level that meets their needs.
“We don’t have fiber-optic cables running through our home,” Schermerhorn explained. “They run under the road near our home, but that’s nearly two football fields away.”

2020 increases need for mental health services; telehealth helps meet the need

InForum reports that the events of 2020 have increased the need for great mental health services…

Common reasons people have sought therapy recently have been anxiety; depression; stress about the pandemic, parenting or job stability; loneliness; or increased substance use. Clabaugh said many clients are also grieving, whether it be the loss of friends or family to the pandemic or the loss of a job or stability in life. People also have been stressed about political events like the 2020 presidential election, or worry about various conspiracy theories online regarding politics and the pandemic.

To meet the increased demand, counseling centers have hired more clinicians in the last year, and some continue to add more therapists to take on new patients. Erickson said the appointment openings for new clinicians will fill within a week or two, and then will have a three- to four-week waiting list like the rest of the clinicians. Clabaugh said when she opened Insight Counseling almost four years ago, she planned to have two or three therapists, but now she has 20 because the demand has always been so high.

Telehealth has helped counselors reach more people…

At Arrowhead Psychological Clinic, psychologist Dave Plude sees clients from Sandstone to Ely, and from Brainerd to Grand Marais. For many clients, the use of video or phone sessions has been a more convenient option in many ways. Plude said once clients overcame the learning curve of the technology, many people would rather call in from home or their cars than drive up to four hours round-trip for an hourlong session.

“It’s been kind of fun,” he said. “It’s enjoyable to be able to offer good clinical care to people in smaller towns who might not have as much access to it historically.”

It looks like virtual is here to stay for a while…

While telehealth has been offered at many clinics for a while now, it’s never been used as much as it has been in the pandemic. At Arrowhead, Plude said last summer, 80% of their sessions were via video or phone, and they went to 100% virtual last fall during the surge of COVID-19 cases. While many are now returning to in-person sessions, Plude said quite a few are fine with staying virtual. Some will start sessions in person, then switch to telehealth after they get comfortable with their therapist.

A permanent change in policy would make it easier…

U.S. senators introduced a bill at the beginning of May to continue access to telehealth services with Medicare after the pandemic. CONNECT for Health is one of more than 20 bills introduced this Congress about the future of telehealth.

But regardless of the specifics of insurance coverage or other future rules related to telehealth therapy services, all three therapists said they plan to continue offering video sessions at their clinics.

MN Broadband Task Force Mtg May 2021 Notes: Fixed Wireless & State Demographer

Today the Task Force heard from a panel of Fixed Wireless providers. They spoke about advanced in wireless technologies and the range of customers they have. The also heard from Susan Brower, State Demographer. We learned that the state is growing but at a slower rate and that growth is uneven. There’s more growth in urban areas.

Here’s the whole lineup including some of Susan’s slides:

10:00 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from April 5, 2021 Meeting

10:10 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Update on 2021 MN Legislation Deven Bowdry, DEED

Session ended May 17 with no action. But Senate, House and Gov agreed on $70 million over biennium for broadband – not sure if it’s State of Federal funding yet. Funding will not be included in Sen Westrom’s Ag bill. They passed a policy-only bill with nothing related to broadband. It will likely become an infrastructure bill. Spreadsheets expected May 28; June 4 bill language is due; Special session is June 14 – with all new bill numbers.

10:15 a.m. – 11:10 a.m. Fixed Wireless Panel – Luke Johnson, Broadband Operations Manager, Meeker Cooperative Light & Power – VIBRANT Broadband Terry Nelson GM/VP, Woodstock Communications Mary Lodin, CEO/Partner and Jay Mankie, CTO/Partner, Genesis Wireless, Tim Johnson, Operations Manager, MVTV Wireless

Questions:

Can fixed wireless provide symmetrical services?
Only at lower speeds 10/10, 20/20 even 50/50 but not up to 100/100

How much is fixed wireless?
$39.95/month to 99.95 – we really need to average $50 per customers to remain sustainable.
We have 300-400 people who only use email; we have others that seem to stream constantly.
Folks can get 25 Mbps for $35/month.
Woodstock has a service that starts at $24.95/month. It’s a legacy from a Moose Lake municipal service and it’s mostly seniors who only email. No streaming.
If we want symmetrical speeds we have to go with fiber.
If someone wants a light package we can serve northern areas but the trees make it difficult. They try to map accordingly.
Costs can be high for end users – and sometimes we need to go to them to help pay for those costs and people do it – especially with fiber? Do people really need FTTH or do the hybrid solutions work.
It might be helpful to have a “bank” of funds to help offset some of these installation costs for folks who need it.

How has COVID impacted demand?
Many people now know they can work from home and many of them will continue working from home. That might not be the case with students.
Evening hours are the busiest for most providers. They built the network for those nighttime peaks; so we were ready for the shift to day time use. For most, they got new customers and upgraded existing customers.
Learned that we need to deploy quicker in rural areas. They were installing 7 days a week. They’re still seeing growth and people are not getting the lower packages; the buy at higher levels.
Sometimes you can get around obstacles.

How can we help you?
What about a program that helps upgrade existing customers? Rather than introduce a faster competitor, but look at who is the incumbents and how can the State help make them faster. Especially in areas where you might have 4 customers per square mile. The customer is there – we just need to upgrade.
Need better education. Wireless had gotten a bad rap – and there are good ways and bad ways to build it. The new technology is a very good solution.

How many residents actually need a Gig – we have to quick chasing these numbers. Getting to 100/100 with today’s technology is difficult but providers feel they can get there in the future. Not sure about higher speeds.

Cost to build a tower:
In Meeker $120,000
300 ft tower $100-175,000
And there’s a 50 percent increase in steel costs

How do you deal with businesses in range but out of line of sight?
We work with them – taking down trees or extending existing towers.

11:10 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Break

11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower

Minnesota had growth but it has slowed, as has the US growth. Our population is getting older. (More people living longer than babies born.) Most growth is in 7-metro counties and up the Highway 94 core. IN rural areas – there’s not as much growth but these areas are not quickly emptying out. It’s more of a stability that most people think.

In rural areas – we are seeing population declines, albeit modest decline. It has picked up in some areas in the last decade. Entirely urban areas are growing.

12:15 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Public Comment, Other Business, June Meeting Plans, Wrap-up

What are we going to do with RDOF? Can we get the legislature to look at the problem of RDOF closing the door on so many communities that night have qualified for Border to Border grants and are now left in the lurch.