Kandiyohi Commissioner asks Minnesotans to ask for more for Broadband

The West Central Tribune posts a letter to the editor from Kandiyohi Commissioner Roger Imdieke promoting State funding for broadband grants…

I am writing to ask readers to support the House version of the broadband funding proposal.

Because past and present providers have chosen to provide service to more heavily populated areas of the state, large swaths of Minnesota have been left unserved or underserved.

Policy decisions from both the federal government and the state government allowed for this to happen. Now federal and state policymakers have an opportunity to begin to bring equity to all of Minnesota through additional funding.

The House version is looking for $70 million for grants; the Senate version is looking for $30 million. He uses a couple examples of local need…

Ag producers that use a tremendous amount of web-based technology to make management decisions are not able to upload data to their advisers. In addition, property values are affected by lack of broadband. Prospective buyers walk away from homes that they would like to make offers on, due to inadequate internet service.

Our own business, Three Sisters Furnishings outside of New London, experiences increased cost of operations due to slow service from the only provider available to us. This provider, as well as others, is allowed to charge us for a level of delivery but not required to deliver.

What other industry is allowed to “sell and charge you for a pound,” and deliver a “half pound”?! And fixed-base wireless, often cited as a less expensive alternative, will not work for us. Just last week, a technician from MVTV Wireless informed us that we do not have a clear line of sight that would allow for their technology.

Please support the House version of broadband funding.

Bipartisan Bills Introduced to Correct Tax Law Hindering Rural Co-op Broadband – led by Sen Tina Smith

It seems like my weekend is being spent catching up with smart people. Doug Dawson on 5G and now the ILSR Community Networks folks on tax laws and cooperative broadband potential.

Community Networks have been keeping up on the topic…

Last November, we reported on a change to the tax code that is deterring rural telephone and electric cooperatives from leveraging government funding to expand broadband access. We were alerted to the issue by the office of Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), who sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig requesting that they remedy the issue and announcing her intention to introduce corrective legislation.

Good news is that changes are being proposed…

Federal elected officials have introduced such a measure, called the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands (RURAL) Act. Senator Smith together with Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the Senate version of the bill, S. 1032, in early April, followed by Representatives Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Adrian Smith (R-NE), who introduced a companion bill, H.R. 2147, in the House a few days later. The RURAL Act would ensure that co-ops, which are many rural communities’ only hope for better connectivity, could take full advantage of federal and state funding for broadband networks. …

To end the legal uncertainty that electric and telephone co-ops are now facing, the RURAL Act would explicitly exclude government funding for broadband infrastructure and other important investments from the member income test. Specifically, the bill would exclude the following funding sources from a co-op’s gross income for the purposes of determining tax-exempt status:

“any grant, contribution, or assistance provided pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act or any similar grant, contribution, or assistance by any local, State, or regional governmental entity for the purpose of relief, recovery, or restoration from, or preparation for, a disaster or emergency” or “any grant or contribution by any governmental entity . . . the purpose of which is substantially related to providing, con­struct­ing, restoring, or relocating electric, communication, broadband, internet, or other utility facilities or services.”

Rural and Urban Broadband are different and 5G isn’t a panacea for both

Doug Dawson take on the most popular question of the last few years (again!) – will 5G bring ubiquitous broadband to rural areas. And the answer again is – no. I’m a little tempted to just leave my comments as that and link readers directly to Doug – but I’ll try to pull out some very high level points…

There are a few hot-button topics that are the current favorite talking points at the FCC. T-Mobile and Sprint are pressing both the 5G and the rural broadband buttons with their merger request. The companies are claiming that if they are allowed to merge that they can cover 96% of America with a ‘deep, broad, and nationwide’ 5G network.

There are multiple technologies being referred to as 5G – wireless broadband loops and 5G cellular – and their claim doesn’t hold water for either application.

Doug goes on to explain the multiple technologies. And if you want/need to know the differences, I think he makes it pretty easy to understand. If you don’t want or need to know – you can skip right to his conclusion…

The T-Mobile and Sprint claim is pure bosh. These companies are not going to be investing in fiber to bring 5G wireless loops to rural America. While a combined company will have more spectrum than the other carriers there is no immediate advantage for using 5G for rural cellular coverage . The T-Mobile and Sprint announcements are just pushing the 5G and the rural broadband hot-buttons because the topics resonate well with politicians who don’t understand the technology.

AgriNews says “budget bill gives priority to value-added agriculture opportunities … rural broadband expansion”

AgriNews reports on the latest with broadband in MN Legislative session…

The omnibus budget bill that is being debated in the Senate and House is of special interest. The package — a smorgasbord for rural Minnesota — has great potential for farmers and communities. The budget bill gives priority to value-added agriculture opportunities for farmers and stresses rural broadband expansion.

“This legislation focuses on repurposing existing resources to directly impact the bottom line of Minnesota farm families,’’ said Torrey Westrom, chairman of the Senate’s Agriculture, Rural Development and Housing Development Committee.

They get into some of the specifics (although I’ve doubled checked and I’m not sure where $50 million is coming from – Senate is still at $30M while House and Governor are at $70M)…

The legislation also offers to increase funding to the state’s border-to-border broadband program to $50 million. Broadband development, which often flies beneath the radar in terms of priorities, continues to have the potential to influence the lives of rural Minnesotans for decades to come.

Broadband in Legislature on Monday: Conference Committee on S.F. 2226 meets at 11am

Earlier this week, I attended a Conference Committee on S.F. 2226, Agriculture, Housing and Rural Development. They took testimony, including brief words from Office of Broadband Development Director, Danna Mackenzie. Here are the notes on took on her presentation:

  • Broadband is as important as electricity and phone for homes & businesses
  • The MN Broadband task force recommended $70 million per biennium – and that is only a portion of what we need. They rest will be matched by providers and communities.
  • There will be an opportunity lost cost if we get only $35 million; communities will fall farther behind.

I livestreamed the session – but ironically have been unable to download it from Facebook in two days of trying! You can find it on Facebook. Danna starts at 1:23. The noteworthy thing is that the legislators asked questions about housing for almost 90 minutes before Danna spoke – and plenty of questions for the next speaker. Danna was on for less than 10 minutes. I can’t say whether it’s a good sign or a bad sign but I think it’s a sign that the request for broadband is straightforward and I think that helps build a case for a topic that can inherently be complex.

The Committee met again yesterday and I was unfortunately not able to attend and as if now there are no notes, video or audio online. BUT I wanted to let folks know that the Committee will meet again on Monday at 11 am. This close to the end of session, the times can get moved, with little to no notice. I plan/hope to attend and will livestream and take notes if I can. If you are interested in attending, keep an eye on the MN Leg Calendar for updates.

FCC’s Pai says FCC Will Keep an Eye on Frontier

Broadcasting & Cable reports…

FCC chair Ajit Pai said the FCC will monitor Minnesota’s issues with Frontier Communications, but also signaled that the broadband provider appeared to be holding to its end of the broadband deployment equation when it came to Connect America Fund (CAF) II funding.

That came in the chairman’s response to a letter from Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tim Smith, both Minnesota Democrats.

The senators had called for an FCC investigation into the company following a Minnesota Public Utilities Commission-prompted state investigation into, among other things, how it used the CAF II funds for broadband deployment.

I reported on the public meetings held last summer where customers complained about the service they received from Frontier. There was lots of frustration but according to Pai, Frontier is on track with it’s CAF obligations…

Pai pointed out in his response that before the FCC authorized the CAF II subsidy to Frontier to serve some 47,000 Minnesota locations, the company acknowledged its obligation to build out under the terms of the funding or face penalties and enforcement actions and that Frontier has told the commission it has met or exceeded its deployment milestones in Minnesota and submitted the required reports and certifications to establish that. He also pointed out that the Minnesota PUC has annually certified to the FCC that Frontier “used the high-cost funds appropriately.”

That said, Pai added that he had related the senators’ information to staff and had asked them to “carefully monitor” the situation.

Many of the original complaints had to due with lack of service or miscommunication of service expectations but it seems like this might be a testament to the results of the CAF upgrades. CAF recipients need only to build to 10 Mbps down and 1 up. Customers of 10/1 service may experience an upgrade to what they currently have but may find that it is no sufficient to meet their needs.