MRBC Update: Legislature Returns Tomorrow, Where Does Broadband Stand?

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Legislature Returns Tomorrow, Where Does Broadband Stand?
Minnesota Legislators return to Saint Paul tomorrow morning to begin the final portion of the 2022 legislative session after a 10-day Easter/Passover break. The Legislature must adjourn by May 23 and there is still no agreement on what to do with the $9 billion budget surplus and other pressing legislative items. Those who follow the Legislature closely know that spending deals tend to come together in the final two weeks of the session, so things are moving at a familiarly slow pace. The only caveat is the Legislature assembled and passed their two-year budget in the 2021 session. The takeaway? There is no constitutional requirement for them to pass a supplemental budget bill this year—despite the historically large surplus—and every seat is on the ballot this fall. Expect a bumpy finish.
Where Does Broadband Stand?
In the House, $100 million in state general funds for the Border-to-Border program is in HF 14 and HF 4375. Both bills are identical and currently parked in the Ways and Means Committee awaiting their fate. They could be amended on to a larger spending bill (like the Agriculture Committee’s omnibus bill) or move on their own. The House’s committee structure is not the same as the Senate and broadband bills go through a different committee in the House than in the Senate, making it difficult to match up if broadband provisions are in different omnibus bills in each chamber. The strategy of moving HF 14 and HF 4375 independently was used to give the House flexibility as we enter the final weeks of the session. Additionally, there is language in these bills to increase the state’s portion of the matching funds from 50% to 75% of a project cost. There is also language to increase the maximum project cost from $5 million to $10 million. DEED and the Office of Broadband Development must report back to the Legislature on how these changes have affected the grant program. HF 3605, the Line Extension Grant Program, is currently on the House Floor awaiting action.
In the Senate, there are several broadband provisions in SF 4019, the Agriculture Omnibus Bill. It is currently on the Senate Floor, awaiting action. $110 million remaining in the Capital Projects Fund would be directed to the Border-to-Border program in addition to requiring all funds from the forthcoming federal Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment Program be used for the Border-to-Border program (as well as language to allow DEED to conform to federal program standards). Policy items in this bill include allowing OBD to develop and spend up to $15 million for a low-density pilot program, increasing the state match from 50% to 75%, but leaving the $5 million project cap intact. Finally, the bill contains the Line Extension Grant Program which is also a standalone bill (SF 3476) currently on the Senate Floor awaiting action.
What’s Next?
The good news is that both the House and Senate are proposing $100 million+ for broadband. The governor’s supplemental budget proposal included $170 million in general funds for broadband as well. Our strategy will be to support the funding and let negotiators find an agreement on the funding source, whether that be all general funds, all federal funds, or a combination of both. The next step is for the House and Senate to pass their omnibus spending packages and form conference committees to negotiate the differences between their positions. You can expect to see this happen within the next few weeks. As always, we will keep you updated on any movement or changes.

MN Broadband Coalition looking for new lobbyist at end of session

Nathan Zacharias, the lobbyist for the MN Broadband Coalition, is leaving early May to join the Association of Minnesota Counties. Sounds like a move that may help spread the good word on broadband in Minnesota.

The Coalition will be looking for a new lobbyist after or at the end of session. That’s a heads up for anyone who might be interested.

MN Rural Broadband Coalition Day on the Hill notes

Today the MN Rural Broadband Coalition held their Day on the Hill. I was a little late to the meeting as it conflicted with a hearing at the MN House – where they move two bills to put $100 million into broadband in general funding to Ways and Means. Throughout the day, we heard from legislators, providers and community leaders about broadband. Some high level observations:

  • Broadband education is never a waste of time. The issues become more complex and it’s difficult to keep up.
  • The MN House and Senate have slight differences in their bills to invest in broadband grants but seems like maybe the $5 million project cap and 50 percent match may change.
  • There are concerns with slowness of the federal process, labor shortages and supply chain issues
  • Broadband funding in Minnesota general funds would help bridge the gaps created by federal decision making

Here are some screenshots of various presentations and I have details (but probably not complete) notes from the day below.

 

Presentation from Commissioner Grove
Q: How much to get broadband to everyone?
A: $1.3 billion
DEED: We have $500 million on the horizon from feds. We anticipate more funding and investment from provide providers. We think we need $170 million in State funding Continue reading

EVENT Mar 30: Broadband Bill hearing in House – Industrial Education and Economic Development Finance & Policy

Looks like this will happen immediately before the MN Broadband Coalition Day on the Hill

Wednesday, March 30, 2022 at 8:30 AM

Chair: Rep. Gene Pelowski, Jr.
Location: Remote Hearing
Agenda:

HF 14 (Ecklund) Broadband grant program money deposit transferred.
HF 4375 (Ecklund) Commissioner of employment and economic development required to prepare and submit federal fund application, and money appropriated.
Additional items may be added to the agenda.
**If you are interested in providing written or oral testimony please email the Committee Administrator by 5 pm the day before the hearing.
CA: Owen.Wirth@house.mn
This remote hearing may be viewed via the House webcast schedule page: https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/htv/schedule.asp

EVENT March 30: MN Rural Broadband Coalition Virtual Day on the Hill

From the Minnesota Broadband Coalition…

Register Today and Join Us!
MRBC Virtual Day on the Hill
Wednesday, March 30, 2022
Via Zoom 

Registration is free but required to join this event!  You will receive an email with details and the link to join the meeting after you register.
If you’re interested in scheduling meetings with your legislators, please see this one-page guide on how to schedule a legislative meeting.
Confirmed Guests:
DEED Commissioner Steve Grove
OBD Executive Director Angie Dickison
Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Torrey Westrom
Invited Guests:
House Agriculture Committee Chair Rob Ecklund
Senate Capital Investment Committee Chair Tom Bakk
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar
U.S. Senator Tina Smith
Governor Tim Walz/Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan
Register Now and Join Us!

First Week of MN Legislative Session Recap from MN Broadband Coalition

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

First Week of Session Recap

As you know, the 2022 legislative session got underway this week at the Capitol in Saint Paul. The first week featured a light workload, but committee work has started and there is a brief update to provide.
House Committee Hears Update from Office of Broadband Development
On Wednesday, February 3, the House Industrial Education and Economic Development Committee invited Angie Dickison, Director of the Office of Broadband Development to give an update to committee members on the state grant program, pending federal funds, and a roadmap for the agency’s priorities in 2022 and beyond.
Here are some highlights from the hearing:

  • OBD anticipates $70 million allocated last year from the Capital Projects Fund to arrive this month. If this occurs, OBD would conduct TWO rounds of grants in 2022. One as soon as possible and a second grant round in July (FY23). This would help get the state back on track after missing last summer’s construction season.
  • A total of 224,000 Minnesota households lack access to 100mbps/20mbps service (2026 state speed goal) and it would require $1.3 billion to connect them. A combination of federal investments and state investments will get us across the finish line, but labor and materials shortages as well as permitting delays will make this challenging.
  • OBD is planning to use federal funding earmarked for administering broadband funds to help conduct outreach to communities that require assistance in locating a willing provider, writing grants, and other items.
  • The Office indicated that the state could approve state grants to build in RDOF preliminary auction award areas. If the FCC does not have an “enforceable agreement” with an RDOF provider, then the state can move ahead with border-to-border grants in those areas. They are also working to let applicants know this would be the policy of OBD moving forward.
  • Rep. Ecklund (DFL-Int’l Falls) indicated that HF 14 has been recalled from the Committee on Ways and Means and will serve as the broadband funding bill this session. The initial plan is to amend the bill with $110 million of unallocated Capital Projects Fund dollars as well as the $170 million state general fund request in Governor Walz’s supplemental budget. Several other policy items may be considered as additions to this bill, and we will update you on them when we have more concrete information.
  • We anticipate a hearing on this bill will likely occur in late February or early March. We’ll be asking you to speak with your elected officials when this happens.

MN Rural Broadband Coalition Legislative Platform 2022

The MN Rural Broadband Coalition met this morning to finalize their 2022 legislative platform and go over some business. The discussion was good. It’s interesting to see how coalition is created with groups that have overlapping but not exacting priorities.

If you aren’t a member of the Coalition and you care about making sure that broadband stays front of mind for legislators, especially as federal funding pours into the state, you should consider joining.

Thank you to those who participated in the Coalition’s meeting today and for your input on our 2022 Legislative Platform. We are pleased to send along the final version of this document.

Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition 2022 Legislative Platform

  1. Support legislation that allocates $70 million from the General Fund to fulfill the fiscal obligation in the 2022-2023 biennial budget for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program. Without this action, the State risks losing out on the 2nd construction season of the biennium. It is understood that federal funding is forthcoming and would be used to reimburse the General Fund.
  2. Support the Office of Broadband Development applying for the state’s full Capital Projects Fund allocation ($180 million) from U.S. Treasury through administrative action or, if necessary, lead on an effort to move a bill through the Legislature for this purpose.
  3. Support agency and other legislative efforts to bridge the digital divide by increasing digital equity, affordability, and adoption, including the use of federal infrastructure funds and the Capital Projects Fund for these purposes.
  4. Support state’s ability to invest in broadband infrastructure despite pending or otherwise uncommitted federal funds. In situations where final federal decisions have not been made (e.g., RDOF preliminary auction award areas), the Office of Broadband Development shall allow applications from those areas and those projects shall not be excluded from awards.
  5. Participate in conversations involving emerging technologies and their role in meeting the state’s 2022 and 2026 statutory speed goals. Oppose blanket statutory broadband definition changes and oppose funding carveouts for any specific broadband technology.
  6. Support efforts by state agency or other legislative initiatives to increase the quality of state broadband maps.