Senator Smith talks housing and telehealth on reservations in Northern Minnesota

Duluth News Tribune reports on Senator Smith’s recent visit to the American Indian Community Housing Organization and Fond du Lac Center for American Indian Resources. The visit focused largely on access to housing and healthcare. Broadband came up as a tool to help with health care…

Solutions may require thinking outside the box. Increased access to broadband could bring more telehealth opportunities — allowing doctors to treat patients without traveling hundreds of miles. Better access to affordable child care could help recruit professionals to smaller communities.

And while broadband didn’t specifically come up in the discussion of encouraging more young people to go into health care, I think that remote classes might help, especially if part of the end goal is to facilitate more telehealth…

Smith said there will not be a “simple fix” to rural health care woes, but told the News Tribune at the end of her visit that the firsthand accounts provide valuable guidance for her work.

“I think one of the biggest things we need to do is figure out how to help young people understand what opportunities there are for really fulfilling and purposeful and profitable careers in health care beyond the idea of going to medical school,” she said. “We need people to go to medical school, but we also need physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners and nurse assistants and personal-care attendants.

“There’s a whole continuum of opportunities that we need to get people interested in.”

Pres Trump’s 2021 budget increases funds to rural broadband cuts farm subsidies

KTOE radio reports…

President Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget proposes increasing funds to boost rural broadband. It calls for 25-billion that would be part of a new Revitalizing Rural America grant program. Minnesota Pork Producers CEO David Preisler says internet connectivity is critical on modern hog farms:

“Records are being kept on tablets, and you’re not necessarily doing as much paper as we used to do. And the other thing is the alarm systems and so on that these farms have got. To be able to have really good broadband would be really useful.”

President Trump’s budget proposal does include cuts to farm subsidies, as well as a 26 percent reduction for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Minnesota Farmers Union Day on the Hill: broadband comes up

AgriNews report on Minnesota Farmers Union’s annual lobby day at the Minnesota Capitol. Their top concerns were Health care affordability, taxes and access to meat processing facilities but broadband was mentioned…

Linda Larson said she wants the Legislature to act to expand broadband in the state. She said she didn’t have coverage at her home in Rosemount, Minn., and had to install a landline to access the internet. Larson said she’d heard similar concerns from neighbors.

Sen Klobuchar on rural broadband mentions Blandin Foundation

Campaigning in Las Vegas, Senator Amy Klobuchar discusses how she would fight to expand broadband internet access. She speaks about the need of partnerships and flexibility in planning ubiquitous broadband and reminds the crowd that she used to be a telecom lawyer. She talks about how to insure that big telecom doesn’t come in to prevent local government from building or running public networks. And she gives a nice nod to the work of the Blandin Foundation

It is a combination responsibility. In another life, I did Telcom law in the. Private sector for years I represented MCI when they were trying to bust into the local and long-distance markets and create more competition which helped to bring those rates down. That experience helps me to get this. I also serve on the commerce committee. I plan is to get this done by 2022.

There is every reason to think we can do that, connect every area of the country, not to dial up slow speed, but actual high-speed internet. The way you pay for it is the combination of things. Part of the infrastructure plan I just mentioned, but two, some of the money can come from the universal service fund which is traditionally used for underserved areas. Whether it be impoverished areas, rural areas, and you want to pay for local service. Some of that money can go to broadband as well.

One of the problems that i have identified spending a lot of time in rural areas and meeting with people in small telephone companies is sometimes that money is going to carriers that are not using it. Particularly some of the bigger carriers or midsize ones that are not using it to build out. You have this crazy patchwork situation where one town in one area will have high-speed internet, and the other wand.

I remember being in a tribal area in Minnesota where one of the houses had decided to pay for high-speed internet, which was very expensive because they did not have it on the reservation. And all of these kids every day would go to the guys yard to do their homework. Or the doctor who would — who could get internet in the hospital, but he can’t get it at home and you have emergency calls. He would have to, if he wanted to bring up an x-ray or look at other things, he had to go to the McDonald’s parking lot or the farmer, and farming has become increasingly high-tech with the machinery and the like, who wants to contact customers has to go to — drive miles to go to a target. That is what is happening.

I think the answer is a combination of things like everything else if you are realistic. It is getting the direct funding through this infrastructure package. The funding for internet goes through the USDA, as well as the commerce to mark — commerce department. . There are local government owned situations in the rural areas.

One of them, the Blandin foundation in Minnesota has spent a lot of time working on this. I don’t think it is one-size-fits-all. The key is to make sure the money is not going to phone companies that are not using it. A senator and i, the republican from South Dakota, had done work on this to try to get people with standalone internet — cell phone service to get better internet service. A bunch of things we could do.

You have to have a president step back, look at these programs, and figure out that it is literally mapping exactly so that we have accurate data about where it is and where it isn’t. And then we get the resources to where they are supposed to go.

Update from MN Broadband Coalition on MN Broadband Bills – next meeting Feb 25

From the MN Broadband Coalition Newsletter…

Legislature Convenes 2020 Session; House Bill Hearing; Senate Broadband Bill Introduced
Saint Paul—The 2020 legislative session is finally underway here in Minnesota’s capital city. Legislators returned to the capitol for a day of smiles and handshakes after spending the last 8 months away from the Legislature. The atmosphere, as always, was quite similar to the first day of school. The House officially gaveled into session at 11:00am and the Senate shortly after at 12:00pm. Committees in both chambers will have their first hearings as soon as the end of this week, though most will wait until next week to start tackling issues of importance. But they will have to begin work quickly since they have just a little over 3 months before they must adjourn on May 18, 2020.
Two new representatives will join the House this year, one Republican and one Democrat. Rep. Paul Novotny (R-Elk River) and Rep. Sydney Jordan (DFL-Minneapolis) won special elections earlier this month. The outcomes of the special elections do not alter the balance of power in the House, where the DFL retains its 75-59 majority. The Senate remains in Republicans hands with a 35-32 majority. Both chambers are up for reelection in November.
Most of the work in the 2020 legislative session will be crafting the state’s infrastructure bill commonly referred to as the bonding bill. This bill is different from the regular biennial budget (passed during last year’s session) because the state borrows money rather than using tax revenue to pay for projects. And because the bonding bill comes with a super majority threshold for passage, it means Republicans and Democrats need to work together to get the bill across the finish line.
Gov. Tim Walz rolled out his proposal over the past few weeks, focusing on housing, clean water, education, and roads and bridges. His proposal clocks in at over $2 billion, making it the largest bonding bill in the state’s history if it’s passed. Republicans immediately balked at the Governor’s bill, saying that borrowing that much is risky and fiscally imprudent. They favor a more modest bill, most likely around $1 billion. Democrats have not released their bonding proposal, but House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) said she’ll support as large of a bill as possible without jeopardizing the state’s credit rating.  Expect to see competing Senate and House bonding proposals in the first two months of session.
The other big item on the agenda for this session will be a supplemental budget bill. The picture for what will be in the bill and how big it will be remains murky. The state has had a good string of monthly reports that indicate a budget surplus may be coming, but we will not know until the first week of March. That’s when the Minnesota Management and Budget releases its February Budget and Economic Forecast. This report tells us whether legislators will have funding to spend on additional items, including things like the broadband grant program. We have strong support in the House with the bipartisan HF 3029 and Governor Walz has already publicly declared support for an addition $30 million in surplus funding. The November report indicated a budget surplus of $1 billion, but that figure is likely to change when the February report is released.
Senate Introduces Broadband Funding Bill
The $30 million broadband funding bill SF 3049 has been introduced in the Senate. Sen. Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake) agreed to be the chief author on the bill and we couldn’t be more grateful for his leadership. He represents a district that has many rural communities and understands firsthand the need for broadband access. The following is a list of co-authors on the bill:

  • Sen. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth)
  • Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake)
  • Sen. Mark Koran (R-North Branch)
  • Sen. Paul Utke (R-Park Rapids)

The Coalition has received considerable interest from Republican and Democrat senators. We are currently working on a second identical funding bill—known as a “clone bill”—so that more members can show their support. The Senate limits coauthors to 5 per bill, unlike the House which allows up to 40. The next step for this bill is a hearing in the Senate Agriculture, Housing, and Rural Development Finance committee.
ICYMI: Next Coalition Meeting – February 25, 2020
The Coalition will hold a full members’ meeting on Tuesday, February 25th at 3:00pm. The meeting will take place at the League of Minnesota Cities offices (145 University Ave West, St Paul, MN 55103). Call-in information and an agenda will be sent out. Please join us if you are able!

EVENT Feb 18: MN Broadband Task Force Agenda

The agenda is out for next week’s Task Force meeting. New location:

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
February 18, 2020
Land O’Lakes
Room A1-107
4001 Lexington Avenue North
Arden Hills, MN 55164-0101  (directions)


  • 10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. — Welcome, Introductions, Approval of Minutes and Public Comment
  • 10:15 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. — Land O’Lakes Tour (Test Kitchen and R&D Lab) Culinary Center w/Samantha Kelly R&D Lab w/Joana Montenegro
  • 10:45 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.  — Overview of Ag Tech Uses by Land O’Lakes Amanda Neely, Ag Tech Marketing & Strategic Partnerships Vamsi Venigalla, Product Manager, TruTerra Insights Engine
  • 11:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. — Overview of 5G Andy Sackreiter, Director, Radio Access Network, AT&T
  • 12:00 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.  — Lunch Pete Kappelman, SVP, Member and Government Relations
  • 12:30 p.m. – 1:15 p.m.  — Overview of Fixed Wireless Ben Wiechman, Director of Network Strategy and Engineering, Arvig
  • 1:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.  — Update from Subgroups
  • 1:45 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.                     Other Business/March Meeting Plans/Wrap Up


Digital health clinic for men and MN bill to facilitate telemedicine for men

I read a lot of different things in a day. But I don’t read a lot about erectile dysfunction, until this week. I have been reading the bill as they have been introduced this week to scan for anything related to broadband. I have a growing list that I will share soon of items that have a loose connection. Doing that I ran into SF2184/HF2150, a bill to allow telemedicine evaluations to be used for erectile dysfunction medication prescribing. It seemed strange, but again not my wheelhouse.

It made more sense once I ran into an article in Fortune magazine on telehealth…

Telehealth firm Ro just launched what it’s dubbing a “digital health clinic for men” via its men’s health-focused arm Roman.

The company, which has its roots in the direct-to-consumer erectile dysfunction market, has recently expanded its ambitions beyond the men’s health space, including with telehealth services for smoking cessation and a vertical meant to advise women who are about to go through menopause.

But the new effort underscores how important the men’s health business is to Ro’s portfolio.

There’s a tie into medications…

I spoke with Ro’s CEO, Zachariah Reitano, a few weeks ago about a separate project the company was working on—a partnership with drug giant Pfizer meant to leapfrog the company’s rivals in the generic Viagra space.

Here’s how Reitano described the importance of that partnership: “I compare it to buying coffee. You can buy coffee at two different places. All the coffee contains caffeine. But so many things go into making that cup of coffee that go into the quality of that product and experience.”

The comparison is intriguing. And Ro’s efforts in this crowded market could be a signal for how other telehealth companies follow.

So I mention this as a new avenue for telehealth and maybe a civics lesson.