Minnesota’s broadband grant program is detailed as model approach

Government Technology recently posted an article – Rural Broadband’s Only Hope: Thinking Outside the Box? The article details Minnesota’s Border to Border grant program and the bipartisan support through the years that has helped it develop and sustain…

Minnesota is making a success of pushing broadband out to its rural areas by collaborating with rural cooperatives, private providers, and a wireless pilot programs as well, said Danna MacKenzie, executive director of the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development.

The state collaborates with multiplicity of providers to help it meet its goal of border-to-border coverage of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps by the year 2022. By 2026 the state hopes to supply all businesses and homes with access to at least one broadband provider of with download speeds of at least 100 Mbps/20 Mbps.

The Office of Broadband Development also awards grants to providers for its border-to-border program. In 2017 the state legislature allocated $20 million for this program. The grants provide up to 50 percent of project development costs with a maximum grant of $5 million. These grants require the grantee to match the state’s dollars. In the past four years, the state has laid out $85 million for broadband coverage.

One of the strengths of the program, she says, is that it is a framework rather than a rigid plan. These providers “all have different investments, different interests and different specialties,” MacKenzie said. “We have a system and a framework in place that welcomes all these different providers.”

Still, with all this activity surrounding broadband in the state, the issue of rural access is still a problem. Minnesota is ahead of the national average for connectivity, but 39 percent of rural residents have no access to high-speed Internet. Currently 202,000 households in rural areas, or 22 percent, lack access to fixed, nonmobile broadband service at the FCC standard, according to the Minneapolis Star

“We are generally confident that if the state funded the state [grant] program at $35 million a year, we will hit our 2022 goal,” she said.

When the state began to talk about what she calls the federated model of broadband deployment, they had bi-partisan leadership from former Minnesota Gov. Timothy Pawlenty, a Republican, and Democrat Mark Dayton.

And like Oregon, the private providers in Minnesota were worried that the state was fixing to take their business away. “Industry was really concerned about this whole effort,” MacKenzie said. “They were concerned about additional layers of government oversight or regulatory burden. They resisted this for a long time.”

It wasn’t until the decision was made to place the agency in the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and separate from any regulatory agency that the private providers came on board.

“This meant we could play an advocacy role and an investment role separate from the regulatory agency. Once that happened, we tried to create a win for everyone,” she said. “Right now, we have all our major industry groups on board as well with local government, the establishment of our state speed goals gave us our North Star, and it allowed everyone to buy in and have something to work towards.”

While MacKenzie believes that the state can hit the 2022 goal that has been outlined, she struggles with the thought of meeting the sweeping 2026 target with download speeds of at least 100 Mbps/20 Mbps. She is also intrigued by the idea of what small independent cooperatives could bring to the table to help achieve the state’s goals.

“Minnesota is looking at where there might be partnerships between our phone and electric cooperatives, allowing them the opportunity for each to bring their expertise to the table and getting things up and running much faster,” she said.

Some successes have already been seen with a partnership between an electricity and telephone provider in this space, she said.

MN Broadband Task Force Meeting notes: FirstNet and Internet of Things

Today the Task Force learned about FirstNet and the Internet of Things (IoT). Both made the case that the need for better broadband throughout the state to take advantage of improved safety communication and to take advantage of the IoT. The speaker pointed out that most IoT applications require narrowband access – but narrowband access requires the back haul of broadband.

The Task Force also talked about their final report. There was some discussion to create a roadmap to lead Minnesota to successfully accomplish the 2026 goals. (Learn more from the handouts.)

Below are full notes and video – a warning that I had a terrible time with the video. Not sure if the problem was the network, my phone or most likely a combination of both!

Full notes Continue reading

Next MN Broadband Task Force meeting – April 3 in St Paul

The next Minnesota Broadband Task Force meeting in April 3 in St Paul. I will plan to attend, livestream and post my notes later. BUT if you’re in the area and have something to say, they always make time for public comments.

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
April 3, 2018
Administration Building
Room 116B (first floor, off main lobby)
50 Sherburne Ave.
St. Paul, MN
10:00 a.m. – 2:45 p.m.

10:00 a.m. – 10:10 a.m.  Introductions, approval of minutes, public comments

10:10 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Update from Office of Broadband Development

10:15 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. FirstNet Panel

  • Sheriff Richard Stanek, Hennepin County Sheriff; FirstNet board member
  • Corey Draack, AT&T
  • Melinda Miller, Department of Public Safety

11:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.  Workgroup

12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. Lunch

1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.  Cybersecurity Update from Minnesota IT Services

  • Johanna Clyborne, Commissioner, Minnesota IT Services
  • Aaron Call, Chief Information Security Officer, Minnesota IT Services

2:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. Workgroup Report Back

2:15 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. 2018 Report Outline

2:30 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.  Next Meeting and Wrap-up

MN Broadband Task Force Meeting notes: superbowl technology and talk about lowering definition of broadband

The Task Force learned about the ins and outs of the communication technology around the Superbowl. They also heard from a fixed wireless provider. It led to some interesting discussions about the definition of broadband. The fixed wireless provider thought that 25/3 (which is the state goal for broadband by 2022) was too steep a climb because he had customers that were satisfied with lower speeds. That led to other people discussing the definition.

It was an interesting juxtaposition to hear about the huge investments, the 7.2 terabytes of data transferred, and awesome speeds experienced downtown Minneapolis during the Superbowl and the push to lower the definition of broadband in rural areas so that we could get people lower speeds more quickly. Some folks seemed to recognize that would lead to tiered services based on location. And having spent time in the field recently, I have heard folks in rural areas say they want faster speeds because they want to run businesses, do homework and access telehealth options. That is why the Task Force recommended and the legislature put into place state speed goals of 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026.

The Task Force also talked about plans for the final report, considering the role of a future Task Force and how to capture the attention of legislators.

Notes from the day: Continue reading

Next MN Broadband Task Force Meeting at Feb 8

I plan to attend and take notes. I will also livestream it if I can and will post here.

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
February 8, 2018
State Capitol, Room 316
75 Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard
St Paul, MN 55155
10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

  • 10:00 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. Introductions, approval of minutes, public comments
  • 10:10 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Update from Office of Broadband Development
  • 10:15 a.m. – 10:35 a.m. CenturyLink: Super Bowl Technology Investment Update – Jesse Sullivan, CenturyLink
  • 10:35 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. Q&A/Discussion—CenturyLink: Super Bowl Technology Investment Update
  • 10:45 a.m. – 11:05 a.m. AT&T: Super Bowl Technology Investment Update
  • Paul Weirtz , AT&T State President
  • Andy Sackreiter, Director of Engineering, AT&T Minnesota/ Northern Plains
  • 11:05 p.m. – 11:15 a.m. Q&A/Discussion—AT&T: Super Bowl Technology Investment Update
  • 11:15 a.m. – 11:35 a.m. Comcast: Super Bowl Technology Investment Update – Chris Hanna, Engineer, Comcast Business Services
  • 11:35 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. Q&A/Discussion—Comcast: Super Bowl – Technology Investment Update
  • 11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Lunch
  • 12:15 p.m. – 12:45 p.m. LTD Broadband presentation – Corey Hauer, LTD Broadband
  • 12:45 p.m. – 1:15 p.m.  LTD Broadband presentation discussion
  • 1:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. 2018 topic discussion/work plan
  • 1:45 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. Workgroup formation/meeting
  • 2:15 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. Workgroup report back to Task Force
  • 2:45 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.  Next meeting and wrap-up

Position open on the Minnesota Broadband Task Force

Steve Lewsader left the Minnesota Broadband Task Force at the end of 2017. That leaves one seat open and they are looking for applications.

Here’s the mission as reported on the Boards & Commissions website

To develop, implement and promote state broadband policy, planning and initiatives to achieve State broadband needs and goals. Inventory, assess and report on various aspects of broadband. Develop a Minnesota Broadband Plan outline.

It looks like they will review applications on Feb 4. The group meetings monthly. Two people have already applied. You can apply directly from the website.

Minnesota Broadband Task Force Report – what Minneapolis Star Tribune and Mankato Free Press are saying

Yesterday I posted about the latest Minnesota Broadband Task Force report. Today I’m reading about it in various publications. Here’s what people are saying…

Minneapolis Star Tribune – Minnesota task force says $35.7 million needed annually to expand broadband

Minnesota spent tens of millions of dollars expanding high-speed broadband internet in recent years, but nearly $1.4 billion in public and private investment is still needed to get access to all households, according to a state task force report. …

The task force’s goal is to connect all of those households by 2022. The $1.4 billion price tag to meet that goal would be covered by a variety of sources, including federal, state and local funding and private companies.

In November, state officials forecast a $188 million budget deficit over the next year and a half. Given that outlook, the task force’s financial request “is a little daunting,” said Kelliher, a DFLer who once served as speaker of the Minnesota House and now is president and CEO of the Minnesota High Tech Association.

The report is a good conversation starter, said Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls. The next state revenue and expenditure forecast in February will help determine what’s affordable, he said.

“That being said, I think they’re on the right path,” Kresha said of the task force. “Certainly we don’t want to stop the great work we’ve done for rural broadband. And if there [are] any opportunities to continue to expand efforts — whether that’s through policy, funding or innovation — we should do it.”

Mankato Free Press – Broadband Task Force renews push for high-speed access

Bill Otis, president of New Ulm-based NU-Telecom, said rural phone companies like his rely on federal and state grants to help build costly fiber networks.

“We’ve made progress (in adding fiber) but it’s slow without some of the grants. We’ve been involved in grants that allow us to build out to areas that would be economically unreasonable without the grants. And even with the grants, it’s sometimes questionable economically. Getting the fiber out to some of these more remote rural areas can be tough,” Otis said. …

But Otis said those minimum speeds are relatively slow for the growing demands on the internet. “You’d like to say everyone should have 100 (megabits) down and 20 up. And to be perfect you’d have 100 by 100.”

He said that when putting in new lines, having the minimum 25-3 megabit is “underusing your fiber.”

And the demand for more speed is only going to grow as more video content, self-driving vehicles, smart cars, enhanced 911 systems, smart homes and other technology all vie for internet and fiber optic space.

“The projections are for unbelievable, exponential growth in the next five to 10 years,” Otis said.