The Roadmap to Telehealth Efficacy – broadband is essential to good health

It was amazing, and lifesaving, to see how quickly healthcare could move online during the pandemic. Healthcare facilities stepped up their game by bringing in the technology, patients stepped by learning how to use it and government stepped up by relaxing rules on reimbursement and licensure. To keep up the momentum we must continue to have engagement from all three players – and the one that seems most precarious is the relaxed rules.

The folks at Brookings recognized this and came up with a report that makes recommendations to help continue use and growth of telehealth…

  1. Federal and state governments must continue telehealth availability and use in a post-pandemic environment through codifying its use, especially in legislation.
  2. Modality neutrality must become a standard practice to adequately address digital disparities, and ensure full use of remote health care.
  3. The U.S. must adopt a federal privacy standard to ensure patient/ provider confidentiality and reduce risks to data
  4. The larger health care community must understand that they, too, are part of efforts to close the national digital divide through training, device availabilities, and online consumer engagement.
  5. States and localities must prioritize telehealth in their broadband plan and include local stakeholders.
  6. Telehealth should be incorporated in value-based payment initiatives.
  7. The incorporation of AI into telehealth must prioritize equity and fairness.

I think it’s helpful for those of us outside of healthcare and/or policy field to see all that is required to make or sustain such a social shift in how we do things. But it’s really the fourth and fifth points that will relate to most readers. Access to healthcare is a compelling reason to strive for better broadband, especially in areas where physical healthcare facilities are not nearby. Remember to invite healthcare folks to your broadband planning meetings and remember to include telehealth training into your digital equity efforts.

Broadband still making priority list on MN Farm Bill

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

With a garage door opened to the tall, green corn of the Peterson family, Monday’s midsummer gathering marked the committee’s first field hearing in the Midwest. The earlier stops have been farther west, such as California and Arizona, where conversations revolved around access to water.

The farm bill touches everything from food policy to broadband, biofuels to school lunches. This often leaves priorities in tension — from reducing the carbon footprint of industrial agriculture to providing milk for hungry children.

FCC Proposes Fines of $4.3M Against 73 RDOF Applicants for Defaults – some with MN connections

The FCC reports

The Federal Communications Commission today proposed $4,353,773.87 in fines against 73 applicants in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction (Auction 904) for apparently violating Commission requirements by defaulting on their bids between July 26, 2021 and March 10, 2022. The FCC provided clear guidance in its rules and notices on the monetary forfeitures associated with defaults in Auction 904. The bid defaults prevented 1,702 census block groups with 129,909 estimated locations in 36 states from seeing timely new investments in broadband infrastructure.

The applicants defaulted on their respective bids by withdrawing applications in certain areas, or failing to meet deadlines and requirements required in the auction rules after having already placed winning bids in Auction 904. In order to be authorized to receive universal service support, winning bidders or their assignees were required to provide information that demonstrated they are legally, financially, and technically qualified to fulfill the Auction 904 public interest obligations. The Notice of Apparent Liability proposes forfeitures for 73 applicants and two bidding consortia. However, the Notice does not propose forfeitures for applicants who defaulted on bids in response to the FCC’s letters identifying census blocks that may have been already served or raised significant concerns about wasteful spending.

There was one bidders found in default in MN…

  1. Aspire Networks 2, LLC (Aspire); FRN: 0030311583; File No.: EB-IHD-22- 00033836; NAL/Acct No.: 202232080013. Aspire is a competitive local exchange carrier registered in Delaware and Minnesota that provides internet services to rural locations in Minnesota.9 Aspire’s parent company, Atlantic Engineering Group, Inc. (AEG), a Georgia company, was part of the AEG and Heron Broadband I (Consortium).10 The Consortium timely submitted its Short-Form Application to participate in Auction 904 and was a successful bidder.11 The Consortium then assigned two CBGs to Aspire, which timely filed its Long-Form Application in Auction 904.12 On February 16, 2021, Aspire notified the Commission of its intent to default on its two CBGs subject to forfeiture in Minnesota.13 WCB declared Aspire to be in default on July 26, 2021, and referred the company to EB for enforcement action.14 The Commission finds that Aspire apparently committed two violations by defaulting on its CBGs subject to forfeiture, which places the company’s base forfeiture at $6,000.00.15 Aspire’s assigned CBGs in default subject to forfeiture amounted to $6,470,222.30, thereby capping the maximum possible forfeiture at $970,533.34, which is 15% of Aspire’s defaulted support subject to forfeiture in Auction 904.16 Because the base forfeiture is less than the 15% cap established in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Order, 17 the Commission finds that the forfeiture amount of $6,000.00 against Aspire is appropriate here.

LTD was also one of the bidders found in default…

  1. LTD Broadband LLC (LTD Broadband); FRN: 0020926788; File No.: EB-IHD-22- 00033870; NAL/Acct No.: 202232080047. LTD Broadband is a Nevada company that provides fiber and fixed wireless service to customers, businesses and governmental entities located in rural areas.306 LTD Broadband timely submitted its Short-Form Application to participate in Auction 904 and was a successful bidder.307 On August 16, 2021, LTD Broadband notified the Commission of its intent to default on certain census blocks.308 On August 25, 2021, LTD Broadband also notified the Commission that it would not seek reconsideration of WCB’s denial of the company’s deadline waiver request for its Kansas and Oklahoma bids.309 The areas where LTD Broadband intended to default cover 768 CBGs subject to forfeiture. WCB declared LTD Broadband to be in default on December 16, 2021,310 and on January 28, 2022,311 and referred the company to EB for enforcement action. The Commission finds that LTD Broadband apparently committed violations by defaulting on 768 CBGs subject to forfeiture, which places the company’s base forfeiture at $2,304,000.00.312 LTD Broadband’s CBGs in default subject to forfeiture amounted to $78,496,778.40, thereby capping the maximum possible forfeiture at $11,774,516.76, which is 15% of LTD Broadband’s defaulted support subject to forfeiture in Auction 904.313 Because the base forfeiture is less than the 15% cap established in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Order, 314 the Commission finds that the forfeiture amount of $2,304,000.00 against LTD Broadband is appropriate here

All about the National Digital Inclusion Alliance 2015-2021

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) promotes and facilitates digital equity by developing tools for practitioners on the frontlines and providing data and stories to policymakers to help them support digital equity. They play the long game. They find systemic problems in how things are done and do the research to that demonstrates the issues as well as creating solutions.

A lot of readers will be familiar with NDIA; some may not be and I wanted to fix that. Some folks might remember when they held their annual conference in St Paul in 2017; it was fun to be able to showcase what’s happening here and learn from national speakers and attendees.

The NDIA recently released an Impact Report from 2015 to 2022. Here are some of the highlights from the report:

  • Created Digital Inclusion Week, which included 102 events around the world in 2021 (happening Oct 2-7 2022)

Duluth News Tribune looks at library funds to address digital equity and older Minnesotans

Duluth News Tribune recognizes the impact of age on digital equity…

However, virtual as the new normal is exposing an age-based digital divide within our state of Minnesota. Older adults have lower access to the internet, fewer digital skills, and more limited use of technology. The digital divide contributes to increased social isolation, the severity of chronic diseases, and an overall diminished quality of life. The problem is worse in rural areas than metro areas.

A few facts: Minnesota already has a larger 65-plus population than that of school-age children; and, from 2010 to 2030, the number of Minnesota’s older adults will double. Greater Minnesota is home to a larger share of older adults, outpacing metro areas in the ratio of older adults to school-age children.

As 10,000 baby boomers retire daily from now until 2030 across the U.S., retirees are realizing there is no longer an IT department available to them.

And recognizes that the State has an opportunity to address the issue through the libraries…

There is a timely opportunity, however, for Minnesota to achieve equitable digital inclusion and increase digital literacy. The Library Services & Technology Act of 1996 (LSTA) established a federal grant program to identify priorities centered on technology infrastructure. Under the leadership of the State Library Services, Minnesota’s library network of 356 public locations has historically provided community-based digital devices and training resources. Every five years, the LSTA requires state library agencies to submit a five-year grant plan identifying state priorities for LSTA funds. With the 2022-2025 five-year plan due this summer, Minnesota has the opportunity to prioritize digital inclusion and digital literacy programs that champion Minnesota’s rural older adults.

Minnesota has a significant funding opportunity via the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act. Linking the development of a state digital-equity plan to existing broadband-access initiatives strategically positions the Minnesota State Library Services to lead digital inclusion and digital literacy, using its extensive statewide footprint.

The broad deployment of digital inclusion and digital literacy programs will enable Minnesota’s growing older adult population to fully participate in the virtual new normal.

The opportunity is now. Baby boomers continue to change the world. We have the population size, voting capacity, and drive to expect positive quality-of-life outcomes throughout our lifespans. In order to ensure equitable participation in the modern digital landscape, we must have IT services accessible to us regardless of where we live in Minnesota. The Minnesota State Library Services has the geographic reach, knowledge, expertise, and savvy to create real change and implement digital inclusion and digital literacy as an essential healthy aging strategy benefiting all of Minnesota.

Duluth approved digital access master plan and State broadband grant application

Broadband and broadband funding has been a hot topic in Duluth these days, as WDIO reports, it sounds like some decisions were made this week..

The Duluth City Council considered several broadband related resolutions during a meeting Monday evening.

The council did approve resolutions approving the city’s digital access master plan and also approved a resolution which will allow the city to submit an application to the state for a $3.2 million development grant.

However, the council decided to send back to administration a resolution that would establish up to $5,000,000 from the Community Investment Trust Fund to support the Duluth open Access Fiber Pilot Project.

More information on all three resolutions can be found here.

FCC Chair proposed an increase to minimum broadband speeds – a lesson for MN?

FCC reports on discussions to change the definition of broadband from 25 Mbps down and 3 up to 100/20. Funny enough those were/are the Minnesota speed goals: 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026. We didn’t reach the 2022 goals but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take a look at what the FCC is considering for a future goal of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps …

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has circulated to her colleagues a Notice of Inquiry that would kick off the agency’s annual evaluation of the state of broadband across the country. As part of this assessment, Chairwoman Rosenworcel proposed increasing the national standard for minimum broadband speeds and proposed setting a long-term goal for broadband speed.
“The needs of internet users long ago surpassed the FCC’s 25/3 speed metric, especially during a global health pandemic that moved so much of life online,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel. “The 25/3 metric isn’t just behind the times, it’s a harmful one because it masks the extent to which low-income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left behind and left offline. That’s why we need to raise the standard for minimum broadband speeds now and while also aiming even higher for the future, because we need to set big goals if we want everyone
everywhere to have a fair shot at 21st century success.”
The Notice of Inquiry proposes to increase the national broadband standard to 100 megabits per second for download and 20 megabits per second for upload, and discusses a range of evidence supporting this standard, including the requirements for new networks funded by the
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The FCC previously set the broadband standard at 25/3 Mbps in 2015 and has not updated it since.
The Notice of Inquiry proposes to set a separate national goal of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps for the future.

MinnPost looks at the PUC’s decision to investigate LTD Broadband

More mainstream media on the situation with LTD Broadband and the Minnesota PUC from MinnPost

The embattled telecom company LTD Broadband has been stopped from building subsidized high-speed internet infrastructure in several states. Now, LTD might be in trouble in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission Thursday ordered an investigation of LTD to determine if they should block the small company from using a whopping $311 million in federal money for construction of broadband in Minnesota’s rural areas amid fierce criticism alleging LTD can’t deliver fiber internet as promised.

“We don’t want to get a situation where they claim they have ability to build out and they get out there and they can’t do it – scrambling for more assets and then all of the sudden it just collapses,” Commissioner John Tuma, a Republican, said in an interview following the PUC’s hearing.

They include a perspective from LTD…

Corey Hauer, the company’s CEO, has told MinnPost it can expand rapidly and has simply figured out how to deploy fiber-optic cable easier, faster and cheaper than aggrieved competitors. Hauer characterized the regulatory filing as a nuisance.

On Thursday, Andrew Carlson, an attorney for LTD, told the PUC the company is in good standing in Minnesota. He said reopening its state credentials would set a dangerous precedent allowing critics to continually question their process and force investigations “anytime any other competitor has complaints or concerns or just competitive animus against” an eligible telecom provider. It could also jeopardize that FCC funding for Minnesota altogether, he said.

The plan moving forward…

The PUC largely ruled against LTD, ordering what’s known as a contested case hearing before an administrative law judge to take a closer look at the capability of the company. The commission did not cancel LTD Broadband’s status, but it decided to consider whether it should and seek more information, following recommendations from the AG’s office, the Minnesota Department of Commerce and a state task force on broadband policy.

Mainstream media look at PUC’s decision to investigate LTD Broadband

I wrote about this yesterday, but always good to see what the mainstream press are saying about telecom issues; here’s what the Minneapolis Star Tribune is saying about LTD and the PUC…

Minnesota utility regulators Thursday approved an investigation into revoking a key permit for LTD Broadband, the big winner of a federal auction to provide broadband to rural areas.

Revocation of LTD’s telecommunications permit in Minnesota could result in the company — and the state — losing out on $311 million in federal broadband subsidies.

Trade groups for Minnesota telecom and rural electricity providers petitioned the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for the revocation investigation.

They say that since the PUC granted LTD the permit last year, several events have occurred in other states that call into question the company’s ability to deliver on its commitments — a claim LTD denies.

If you haven’t been watching this story play out, I think the thing that’s hard to understand is that losing the $311 million may be better than wasting it and not getting what communities need. The article touches on that point…

The Minnesota Department of Commerce and the state attorney general’s office both recommended that the PUC initiate the revocation investigation.

Sieben said she has some concern about whether LTD’s grant money “would come back to Minnesota” if the PUC revokes the company’s ETC status.

Kristin Berkland, an assistant Minnesota attorney general, said there is no guarantee it would come back to a Minnesota (broadband) provider.

But Berkland said it is just as dangerous for the $311 million to be rebid as it is for “commitments made for that money not being carried out.”

Four counties — all of which would host LTD projects — and the Minnesota Association of Townships have supported a revocation investigation. In PUC filings, they also said they’re concerned about LTD’s ability to live up to its commitments.

Some — including LeSueur County — have noted that areas covered by LTD’s federal grants in Minnesota haven’t been eligible for a big pot of state broadband subsidies. The state rejected LeSueur County’s bid for two broadband grants in early 2021 because they would’ve overlapped with LTD’s federal awards.

MN PUC will move forward on looking into LTD’s ETC designation, which may alter RDOF standing

Today the MN Public Utilities Commission heard from  Minnesota Telephone Alliance (MTA) and the Minnesota Rural Electric Association (MREA) and LTD Broadband about the case that MTA and MREA have made that the PUC should consider looking into LTD’s ETC license. Having ETC designation was part of the requirements to get the $311 million that they have qualified to potentially get to deploy FTTH in many part of rural Minnesota.

The PUC is moving forward with three of the recommendations (actually 1, 3 and 7 from the list below):

  1. Open a proceeding to determine whether there is cause to revoke the ETC designation of LTD (Petitioners, Department, and OAG),
  2. Refer the matter to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) with the request that proceedings provide for discovery, the cross-examination of expert witnesses, and be conducted expeditiously (LTD and Department), or
  3. Delegate scheduling to the administrative law judge (ALJ), designated lead commissioner, or subcommittee of commissioners (Department),

Full notes from the meeting (not proofed)

 

Should the Commission initiate a proceeding to consider revoking LTD Broadband LLC expanded ETC designation, which was granted in the Commission’s June 3, 2021, Order Approving Petition for ETC Designation in Certain Census Blocks?

  1. Open a proceeding to determine whether there is cause to revoke the ETC designation of LTD (Petitioners, Department, and OAG), or
  2. Decline to open a proceeding (LTD).

[If the Commission selects decision option 1, also select a type of procedure in decision options 3-5 and a schedule in decision options 8-10.]

Questions:

What would trigger us to change the ETC license? (Asked to petitioners.)

You have to ask yourself if you have reason to believe that LTD will be unable to fulfill their obligations. We think they won’t be able to meet their obligations. They have lost 30 percent of bid locations by missing deadlines. We’ve heard many complaints on their service. Three other states have decided to revoke their license because they felt they would not be able. North Dakota went so far as to say they would not be able to meet the obligations – going beyond simply concern. We’d like you to look into the facts to see how you feel once you take a second look.

So we said earlier that we had trust. And now we’re saying there may be evidence to the contrary. That’s the procedure?

Yes. Right now it’s a matter of deciding that it’s worth a second look. Then if you decide yes, then we look into the information leading to a revocation of license.

So what does LTD say about this?

You’re asking the same question as you asked a year ago – nothing has changed. This is a reconsideration rule. We don’t think this is a good idea. There’s nothing happening in MN that would make LTD less able as an ETC. They are on schedule with other federal contracts in Minnesota.

Also this might be a slippery slope. Any time an ETC is new and runs into a bump, can they be brought to the PUC again?

It seems that the petitioners are putting LEC )Local Exchange Carrier) rules on LTD and LTD is not an LEC.

Last year, the PUC decided this was a good idea because it meant $311 million federal funds coming to Minnesota.

Yes – we did say yes to LTD’s ETC because of the promise of the money. But we’re hearing from local communities that this possible contract is actually keeping them from getting grants and other funding that would help build broadband. We’re seeing this especially in Le Sueur. The next 6-10 months is a critical time for these communities for getting money.

As soon as we (LTD) get the money, we can start building broadband. Others could build in this area with their own money. The grants are the only tricky thing. Broadband wouldn’t get built as fast as the complaints seem to think it would happen. More than half the areas LTD bid on in MN had no competitive bids. The RDOF goes as fast at the FCC is making decisions. Maybe the complaints aren’t with LTD, they have with the FCC process.

Sounds like the Office of Attorney General thinks we should reopen this topic?

Yes. (From OAG.) The allegations raised do warrant further investigation. The PUC is not a court, it’s an ongoing process and things change.

Yes – I agree. (From another OAG person.) Today we are talking about opening a case that talks about whether LTD is the right chose for Minnesota. ETC designations are not static – but we need to look at changes.

What does the local Government say?

Le Sueur County is small and rural. We have been working for 5 years about how to get better broadband. We were successful with Border to Border grants. Unfortunately our last grant was denied because of the situation with LTD and RDOF. We are going to re-submit that application but it will now cost $400,000 more. We know our area well – the needs and the existing infrastructure. We don’t understand how LTD can meet our needs for the price that they bid.

So more than the lose of the RDOF money – folks are concerned that the RDOF project is blocking other money?

Right. This isn’t about competitive animus – it’s about wanting to get broadband to our communities.

Can LTD respond to the idea that nothing has changed? We are hearing about a lot of change.

Nothing has changed in Minnesota. In South Dakota it boiled down to one consultant being convincing. The FCC may or may not use ETC status in their decision making for funding.

We have concern that if we move forward and do reject the ETC would the $311 million come back to Minnesota?

No. The funds will roll into RDOF 2 and reauctioned.

Do you think it’s worth the risk?

More dangerous than having the money leave MN is spending the money and not getting what we need.

Would you be opposed to a trade secret agreement?

Yes – because our long form application is a work in progress.

AFTER BREAK

Sounds like LTD will be sharing info with the PUC.

Comments from PUC Commissioners

  • I think we should move forward with proceedings – including testimony and cross examination. (Means)
  • I agree – we should send to OAH for more development (Sullican)
  • Yes – we should focus on ETC designation. So we really need to focus on 1, 3 and 7. (Tuma)
  • I think we need to looing info proceeding. (Sieben)

The are moving forward with:

Open a proceeding to determine whether there is cause to revoke the ETC designation of LTD (Petitioners, Department, and OAG),
Refer the matter to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) with the request that proceedings provide for discovery, the cross-examination of expert witnesses, and be conducted expeditiously (LTD and Department), or

Delegate scheduling to the administrative law judge (ALJ), designated lead commissioner, or subcommittee of commissioners (Department),

Here are all of the items on their docket:

Should the Commission initiate a proceeding to consider revoking LTD Broadband LLC expanded ETC designation, which was granted in the Commission’s June 3, 2021, Order Approving Petition for ETC Designation in Certain Census Blocks?

  1. Open a proceeding to determine whether there is cause to revoke the ETC designation of LTD (Petitioners, Department, and OAG), or
  1. Decline to open a proceeding (LTD).

[If the Commission selects decision option 1, also select a type of procedure in decision options 3-5 and a schedule in decision options 8-10.]

What type of procedure should be used?

  1. Refer the matter to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) with the request that proceedings provide for discovery, the cross-examination of expert witnesses, and be conducted expeditiously (LTD and Department), or
  2. Initiate an expedited proceeding pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 237.61 for record development (Petitioners), or

[If the Commission selects decision option 4, also select a type of expedited proceeding in decision options 5–6.]

What type of expedited proceedings should be used, and should it include party crossexamination?

  1. Designate a sub-committee of Commissioners under Minn. Stat. §216A.03, subd. 8 (Petitoners), [if selected, also select a sub-option], a. with party cross-examination, or b. without party cross-examination. Or
  2. Designate a lead Commissioner under Minn. Stat. § 216A.03, subd. 9 (Petitioners) [if selected, also select a sub-option] a. with party cross-examination, or b. without party cross-examination. What schedule should be used?
  3. Delegate scheduling to the administrative law judge (ALJ), designated lead commissioner, or subcommittee of commissioners (Department), or
  4. adopt one of the schedules proposed by the petitioners (Petitioners), or
  5. adopt the schedule proposed by LTD (LTD).

Should the Commission order LTD to submit its FCC RDOF long form application to the Commission?

  1. Require LTD to provide its long form application to the Commission, Department of Commerce, Attorney General’s Office and Petitioners subject to the terms of an approved Protective Order(Petitioners, Department, and OAG), or
  2. Do not require LTD to provide its long form application to the Commission (LTD). Should the Commission address LTD’s certification for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) funding in 2023?
  3. Do not address LTD’s certification for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) funding in 2023 (LTD, Department, and OAG), or
  4. Decline to certify LTD for 2023 funding (Petitioners).

MN Broadband Task Force July 2022: Affordable Connectivity Program and American Connection Corps

The Task Force member heard about Affordable Connectivity Program and Affordable Connectivity ProgramAmerican Connection Corps. It was energizing and informative.

They also got an update from the Office of Broadband Development. The OBD is in the middle of receiving Border to Border applications with hopes of doing a second round of funding later in the fall.

1:30 p.m. – 1:40 p.m. Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from May 20, 2022 Meeting

Meeting the new Task Force member, Phil Stalboerger, VP Public Affairs, Medical Transportation Management

1:40 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. Office of Broadband Development Diane Wells, Deputy Director

There are four staff members now. The Digital Equity Application and Letter of Intent were both filed. The BEAD filing is due later. The next deadline is Aug 5, to report that we do want $5 million for broadband planning. The Capitol Projects Funds – we have $70 million from the fund already in the grant project. There’s another $110 million available ($60.2M already spoken for) need to discuss the rest.

Border to Border grants are open now. The deadline to submit an intent to apply has passed. We are going through the stages and hope to be done in September. Hoping to open another grant round later this fall.

We are working to add new staff. Final stages of hiring a Digital Equity Lead. Applications just closed for Executive Director. It will be at least a 2-interview process. Will soon be hiring more grant managers.

1:45 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. Affordable Connectivity Program Dave Savolaine, Consumer Affairs and Outreach Division, FCC

2:30 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. American Connection Corps Updates in Minnesota Benya Kraus, Lead for America Co-Founder and ACC Executive Director

The American Connection Corps is a national nonprofit that matches fellows with rural communities to expand broadband infrastructure and use. They have had great support from Land o’Lakes and Center Care.

We heard from fellows from Otter Tail and Redwood and their efforts to understanding the broadband needs in the community and increasing use. They have done great work with gathering data, mapping out availability and funding opportunities.

We also heard about the importance broadband has in bringing healthcare, especially mental healthcare to rural areas.

3:15 p.m. – 3:20 p.m.  Affordability and Adoption Sub-Group

  • Haven’t met – but talked about a schedule for the future.

3:20 p.m. – 3:25 p.m. Funding, Mapping and Usage Sub-Group

  • Did meet. Making plans for future topics. How can people challenge the maps? How can we track the funds available.

3:25 p.m. – 3:40 p.m. Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Update Teddy Bekele, Chair, Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on Broadband

They are still talking about sending a letter to the PUC about LTD Broadband’s reconsidering ETC status.

3:40 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. Public Comment, Other Business, August 29 Meeting Plans, Wrap-up

EVENT Jul 13: MN Broadband Task Force 1:30pm today

The MN Broadband Task Force is meeting this afternoon. I will livestream the meeting on Facebook but all are welcome to join the Teams meeting remotely…

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
Wednesday, July 13, 2022
1:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
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  • 1:30 p.m. – 1:40 p.m. Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from May 20, 2022 Meeting
  • 1:40 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. Office of Broadband Development Diane Wells, Deputy Director
  • 1:45 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. Affordable Connectivity Program Dave Savolaine, Consumer Affairs and Outreach Division, FCC
  • 2:15 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Break
  • 2:30 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. American Connection Corps Updates in Minnesota Benya Kraus, Lead for America Co-Founder and ACC Executive Director
  • 3:15 p.m. – 3:20 p.m.  Affordability and Adoption Sub-Group
  • 3:20 p.m. – 3:25 p.m. Funding, Mapping and Usage Sub-Group
  • 3:25 p.m. – 3:40 p.m. Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Update Teddy Bekele, Chair, Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
  • 3:40 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. Public Comment, Other Business, August 29 Meeting Plans, Wrap-up

Top RDOF bidders have not been funded yet – will NTIA set up a deadline through BEAD opportunity?

Telecompetitor reports

It’s been 18 months since the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction was completed and the FCC has not yet released funding for five of the top 10 winning bidders.

It’s beginning to look like that isn’t going to happen, considering that the other five top winning bidders have had all or most of their funding released, as have scores of smaller winners.

They look at the bidders, including LTD Broadband…

The fifth large winning bidder that hasn’t had funding released is LTD Broadband, a small company that traditionally deployed fixed wireless but that won funding for gigabit fiber broadband. Critics have questioned the company’s ability to meet its deployment commitments.

The FCC also has come under fire over RDOF, as critics have argued that the commission should have had more stringent screening in advance of the auction, rather than waiting for after the auction to review and approve companies’ long-form applications, a key step in funding authorization.

There are concerns and it sounds like one way around awarding or declining the bids is to leave them on the shelf…

“The FCC appears to have very significant questions” about the five bidders, said Blair Levin, policy analyst for New Street Research. While working at the FCC in 2009, Levin headed up the team that wrote the National Broadband Plan.

“It’s not that they lied or misrepresented themselves,” Levin continued. “But the commission doesn’t appear to have confidence that those enterprises will do what they said they would do.”

Carol Mattey, founder of Mattey Consulting, said several months ago that the FCC might never authorize certain winning bidders but wouldn’t reject them either because rejections could be appealed. Mattey was deputy chief of the FCC Wireline Competition Bureau at the time the RDOF auction was established.

There have been many complaints from communities in Minnesota who have been left in RDOF limbo, waiting to hear whether LTD gets the funds or not because in many instances, the fact that the may have RDOF money means they are disqualified for other funds. Apparently there’s no timeline on the RDOF awards but it sounds like there’s a push to try to change that…

Alan Davidson, who heads up NTIA, threw the FCC another curve ball regarding the BEAD program when he said that areas that had winning RDOF bids that have not been authorized should be eligible for BEAD funding. It would be up to the FCC to “deconflict” those areas, Davidson said.

If providers still haven’t received RDOF authorization by the time the BEAD program starts and if the areas involved are included in the BEAD program, potentially the providers could bid again and win, Levin notes. A provider’s ability to do this, of course, would depend on the specific rules for each state where a company had winning RDOF bids

Minneapolis Star Tribune outlines the issues with LTD Broadband and possible federal funding (RDOF)

I have been tracking the situation with LTD and RDOF since the beginning. Here’s a succinct update…

LTD Broadband was awarded the sole opportunity apply for funding to expand fiber in much of Minnesota. The opportunity has been controversial. Some question their ability to fulfill the order, should they get it. To that end, Minnesota industry associations are asking the MN PUC to revoke the ETC status for LTD Broadband. In fact, the PUC has that issue on their agenda for a meeting scheduled for Thursday (July 14) a1 10am. People are invited to attend in person or remotely.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune article outlines the whole ordeal if you want more detail; here’s a portion I found interesting…

Winning [RDOF] bidders were chosen on their promises of low costs and high internet speeds. The companies were given three years to meet build-out benchmarks and three more years to complete their projects.

But federal subsidies cover only a portion of a fiber project’s costs, and LTD has been awarded grants to cover 528,000 U.S. locations — 102,000 in Minnesota alone. It would be a massive broadband buildout.

In comments to the state PUC, four Minnesota counties that would host LTD’s projects — LeSueur, Pine, Jackson and Chippewa — were skeptical of the company’s abilities to follow through, as was the Minnesota Association of Townships.

“LTD’s unproven track record causes us considerable concern that they will be able to provide broadband services to the the areas they were awarded,” Jackson County Administrator Ryan Krosch said in a PUC filing.

Counties also faulted LTD for a lack of a communication.

“Chippewa County representatives have attempted to contact LTD on several occasions to collaborate and request updates on their progress,” County Auditor Michelle May said in comments to the PUC. “Those attempts have failed” and the county has “lost faith” in LTD, she said.

Hauer said he has personally met with county officials across the country.

“The question from counties is always ‘when,’ and, of course, the answer is ‘as soon as possible.’ We want to do it as quickly as we can,” he said.

CenturyLink to pay $8.9 million in fraudulent billing case in MN

Fierce Telecom reports…

CenturyLink has agreed to pay almost $9 million to settle charges that it overbilled customers in Minnesota for internet and television service, according to the Associated Press. The company said it disagrees with the charges brought against it by Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison, but wants to settle in order to avoid the costs of litigation.

Roughly 12,000 Minnesota residents will get about $70 each from CenturyLink. If they are still customers of the company they will get a bill credit, and if not they will receive a check. These 12,000 people were allegedly promised discounts they did not receive, but according to Ellison’s office there are many other people who are due refunds. The bulk of the settlement, $8 million, will go directly to the attorney general’s office, which will use the money to distribute refunds to other customers.

According to the AG’s office, many of these customers were paying bogus fees each month for internet service. The charges were allegedly disguised in order to make them look like government fees, but they were actually going to CenturyLink. The company is accused of ratcheting these fake fees up gradually over time, and has now agreed to stop charging them.