Electronic Health Records used less in rural hospitals – what do MN hospitals look like?

A recent GAO report indicates

Electronic health information exchange is the ability to exchange medical records and other health information electronically among health care providers and between health care providers and patients. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act provided federal enhanced Medicaid matching funds to states through 2021 to support certain efforts to advance electronic exchange. Nearly all states used these funds, and most have identified other sources to sustain those efforts. Survey data show that the use of various electronic exchange methods among hospitals and physicians has increased in recent years. However, GAO found that as of 2021, reported use among small and rural hospitals was lower than that of other hospitals.

The GAO surveyed seven states to see what happened to that funding and how hospitals were using Electronic Health Records (HER). Minnesota was one of those states. The table below shows how Minnesota hospitals are exchanging information. It is eye opening to see that 40 percent of MN hospitals often use mail or faxes and 73 percent receive them! It’s worth noting that both MN and Colorado have a higher percentage of use of EHR vendor network; that’s because in both states most hospitals used the same vendor.

One concerning factor across the board (for most readers here)…

Stakeholders we interviewed, including representatives from state agencies and HIE organizations, also noted that broadband access and availability in rural communities had improved in recent years, primarily due to federal and state efforts aimed at expanding broadband. However, they noted that despite these efforts, lack of broadband access, particularly in very rural areas of the country, continues to be an impediment to electronic exchange.

I’m not patient waiting for a kid’s strep throat results; I can only imaging the USPS playing a role in other diagnosis and I’d hate to think that lack of broadband was a cause!

There appears to be a timing difference in FCC map challenges depending on whether they are bulk or individual

Thank you Telecompetitor for asking the FCC about broadband mapping challenges. A quick centering of the story … the FCC created new maps saying that federal funding will be doled out (partly) based on the maps. People and communities are worried because the maps are not always correct. People can challenge the maps in two ways. Individuals can submit a challenge for their location OR a community can submit a bulk challenge. The bulk challenge requires more technical skills; turns out unserved communities don’t always have those skills on the payroll. Individual challenges are more straightforward but that means convincing a lot of people to make a claim; turns out, residents of unserved areas may lack broadband, device and skills to submit a challenge. Never mind time required for either type of challenge.

Now the update from Telecompetitor

Over the past few months, the FCC and NTIA have recommended filing dates for bulk challenges to the National Broadband Map, which is updated twice yearly. But stakeholders hadn’t seen similar guidance from either agency about individual challenges.

Telecompetitor asked the FCC about this and, based on what a spokesperson told us, individual challenges could be addressed more quickly than bulk challenges – at least when it comes to availability challenges. Details about that later in this post. First, some definitions.

There are some suggested timelines…

Although any type of challenge can be filed at any time, the NTIA and FCC have advised stakeholders of dates by which bulk challenges should be filed in order for them to be adjudicated in time to impact the next version of the map, which the FCC updates twice yearly.

It sounds like the individual challenges can take up to 120 days to be resolved or processed as unserved but that may be quicker than bulk challenges…

Regarding the timing of availability challenges from individuals, the spokesperson noted that after a preliminary review by commission staff, fixed availability challenges are sent to providers, usually within only a few days. Providers then have 60 days to either concede the challenge (in which case the provider’s availability at challenged locations will be removed from the map) or to provide evidence to dispute the challenge.

“If the provider disputes the challenge, it then has 60 days to work with the challenger to resolve the dispute,” the spokesperson said. “We expect that most challenges will be resolved during these initial phases, but if not, the FCC will review the evidence to make a determination of whether the map will continue to show that the provider has availability at the challenged location.”

The results of availability challenges are reflected on “a rolling basis as they are resolved,” the spokesperson said.

Although the spokesperson did not answer our question asking the filing date associated with the most recent availability challenges that had been adjudicated, the timeline outlined above suggests that an individual would have had to make the challenge at least 60 days and possibly more than 120 days in advance of the next broadband map update expected in May or June in order for the resolution of the challenge to be reflected on that version of the map.

Potentially, that’s less time than NTIA expected the FCC to take for bulk challenges. Late last year, NTIA advised stakeholders to file bulk challenges by January 13 in order to have them adjudicated in time to be reflected on the version of the map that is expected in May or June.

 

Republican US Senators’ recommendations to make BEAD funding easier for commercial providers

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has compiled info on Senator Thune’s recommended changes to BEAD program’s NOFA…

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) led 10 colleagues in a letter to National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson expressing concerns with the $42.45 billion Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program’s Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). As part of his nationwide broadband oversight effort to hold agencies accountable and ensure funding is being used in the most efficient way possible, Sen Thune urged NTIA to revise or issue a new NOFO for the BEAD program in order to reach, and more efficiently connect, truly unserved Americans. They asked NTIA to address the following issues:

  1. Labor Requirements: Under the Information Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Congress directed NTIA to give priority to eligible broadband providers that have a “demonstrated record of and plans to be in compliance with Federal labor and employment laws.” The NOFO goes far beyond this statutory objective, however, by actively discriminating against workers in ways that could deny communities – particularly those in more rural areas – access to reliable broadband services.
  2. Encouragement of Government-Owned Networks: The NOFO gives favorable treatment to government-owned networks over private investment. Specifically, the NOFO requires states to include “an explanation for awards to traditional broadband providers when one or more non-traditional providers submitted competing proposals.” This misguided incentive, which was not included in the IIJA, could divert program dollars to less capable providers – a real risk given municipal broadband’s track record of costly failure.
  3. Tech-Neutrality: The NOFO generally prohibits non-fiber projects from receiving BEAD funding despite Congress’ technology neutral stance in the IIJA, which permitted all technologies, including wireless service, to be eligible for funding as long as they meet the IIJA’s network requirements. Further, under the NOFO’s rules, a state that does not use fiber must submit an overly complex and burdensome waiver request, inconsistent with Congress’ intent.  States, working with the broadband providers that serve their communities, should not be precluded from awarding sub-grants to alternative technologies, if doing so  is the right solution for their communities. In the absence of such flexibility, NTIA will fail in its mission to efficiently connect all Americans.
  4. Mandates for Affordability and Rate Regulation: The IIJA does not allow NTIA “to regulate the rates charged for broadband service.” Contrary to Congress’ intent, the NOFO requires states to “ensure that high-quality broadband services are available to all middle-class families in the BEAD-funded network’s service area at reasonable prices.” This provision falsely suggests that states and NTIA have the authority to regulate rates for broadband service and should be removed from BEAD rules. Additionally, the NOFO introduces an additional form of rate regulation by giving preference to providers that agree to interconnect with their competitors at wholesale rates. NTIA should make it clear that states do not have the authority to regulate rates, and NTIA should refrain from introducing any new rules relating to rate regulation or wholesale access requirements that are inconsistent with its direction from Congress.
  5. Climate Change Mandates: The NOFO makes several references to and includes a policy that was not included in the IIJA relating to climate change. The NOFO states “eligible entities must account not only for current [climate-related] risks but also for how the frequency, severity, and nature of these extreme events may plausibly evolve as our climate continues to change over the coming decades.” This extraneous requirement was not envisioned by Congress and diverts resources away from bringing broadband connectivity to unserved Americans. The NOFO is not the place for NTIA to be pushing the Biden administration’s unrealistic environmental agenda onto the American public, and it therefore should be removed.
  6. Supply-Chain Issues: The IIJA rightfully recognizes the importance of purchasing broadband products and supplies from American workers and businesses. At the same time, the IIJA provides agencies the ability to waive such a requirement should it satisfy a number of strict thresholds. If NTIA wants to ensure broadband projects are built in a timely manner, NTIA should work alongside stakeholders to develop a consistent waiver process for certain components of a broadband network.

 

Senator Putnam on Senate’s $100 million for broadband

The St Cloud Times posts an opinion piece from Senator Putnam…

I think some people were surprised when I was named Chair of the Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee in the Minnesota Senate.  You wouldn’t call our community agricultural as a whole, and I’m not a farmer.  So, I guess the surprise makes some sense.

Here’s what he said about broadband…

We are putting $100 million toward broadband and dedicating a chunk of that sum to hard to reach, underserved areas through the new “low-density” program.  It’s more expensive to extend broadband to the end of a road or in a very rural area, but folks who live there matter too.

We might know about the need for broadband, but there is a good chance we aren’t as aware of the stress and economic hardship caused when a grain elevator fails.

As I’ve said before, while $100 million is more than has been received in the past, it will not get broadband to everyone. Not even when the federal money starts seeping into the State.

 

Imagine moving to an area with slow internet – would you work like Barbara Drӧher Kline to fix it?

This week, the Benton Institute tells the story of one of Minnesota’s most tenacious broadband champions…

Barbara Drӧher Kline thought she knew what she was getting into when she moved halfway across the country and bought a 1890s farmhouse in rural Le Sueur county, Minnesota. Contractors advised her to tear the house down, but she loved a fixer-upper, especially after she had refined her remodeling skills on her previous home in California, a redwood log cabin near San Francisco.
Drӧher Kline wasn’t scared by a rural lifestyle either. Both she and her husband, John Kline, had roots in the state, and he had grown up nearby.
The plot twist was something even HGTV had not prepared her for: slow internet.
The internet service provider for her new home, Frontier Communications, offered outdated technology with frequent outages and notoriously poor customer service.

Barbara has been very active as a Blandin Broadband Communities champion, a speaker at various Blandin and other local events and she was on the last iteration of the Minnesota Broadband Task Force. We are glad she is here. Her lack of good broadband has helped her help her new community but it is frustrating to imagine moving into a new place, albeit a fixer-upper and funding inadequate broadband…

“We just assumed there would be something…we lived in a canyon in northern California, and we had a bunch of different options there,” she said.

Realtors are legally required to disclose lots of information to prospective buyers, like whether the house runs on a septic tank or certain potential hazards like flooding or earthquakes. Internet, however, is less regulated than other fields.

It turns out realtors are the MLS housing database only reveal whether a house can get connected, not if the connection is any good. Realtors and home buyers are interested in changing that…

Among surveyed realty associations in Minnesota and California, realtors agree that the MLS should provide more ways to disclose information about a home’s internet connection but are hesitant to call for another mandatory field.

Across the board, realtors emphasize the shared duty of homebuyers and realtors to avoid assumptions and ask informed questions throughout the process.

After trying various options and getting engaged, Barb found a solution for help herself…

She struck a deal with Bevcomm: she would pay $2,700 of the cost to extend service to her home and the company picked up the rest, an estimated $3,000 – 4,000.

“We were that close, so we could afford to do it, and now it would be double that. Most people can’t afford to do that,” she said.

But she’s used her experience to help others in the community…

When she ran for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2018, poor internet was one of the bread-and-butter issues that motivated her, and something her neighbors echoed.

While she lost the election, a tide started to turn, at least in her county. Individual requests like that of Drӧher Kline became fodder for a larger public-private partnership between Bevcomm, Le Sueur county, and the state. As part of that deal, and many other similar projects, Bevcomm contributes roughly 25 percent, the state gives 50 percent of the funding, and the county covers the rest, said Bill Eckles, the CEO of Bevcomm.

Barb continues to work on it…

With the advent of a state broadband grant program and the recent influx of COVID-19 relief dollars, Eckles said Bevcomm has seen fewer calls from neighbors like Drӧher Kline, and more counties that come forward with proposals of their own.

But Drӧher Kline is still worried about the math. Now she sits on the Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on Broadband, where she’s working to change the funding formula to lower the burden on taxpayers and encourage more companies like Bevcomm to serve rural counties like hers.

One thing Barb wanted me to help clarify, she is not opposed to state and federal tax investment in broadband – it’s the burden of property taxes.

Sen Klobuchar says broadband should be part of the farm bill

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

Minnesota’s congressional delegation has been taking a spin around the state in the past few weeks, meeting in conference rooms, barns and farmhouses patrolled by sleepy dogs and talking with farmers and hunger advocates about the farm bill.

Broadband was part of the conversation…

Klobuchar and Boozman, the ranking member of that committee, spoke about the need to attach rural broadband funding to the farm bill.

Report estimates cost for nationwide ubiquitous broadband at $230 billion – that’s not what’s being invested

Telecompetitor reports

The cost to the federal government to bring fiber broadband to every U.S. household that NTIA considers “unserved” or “underserved” would be approximately $230 billion, according to a study from fixed wireless equipment provider Tarana Wireless, which gave Telecompetitor an exclusive first look at the study. That’s more than five times the funding that the government has earmarked for broadband deployments in the BEAD and RDOF programs, the study notes.

The $230 billion estimate is the amount of funding needing after factoring in the 25% matching funds that network operators are required to contribute to project costs, Tarana said.

Part of a librarian’s bibliographic instruction 101 is looking at who wrote it and why. Here the author is a fixed wireless equipment provider. They are trying to make the case that it’s too expensive to pull fiber to everyone but that wireless is a viable solution…

Guidelines for the BEAD program established by the NTIA require funding recipients to deploy fiber unless the cost per location exceeds the extremely high cost per location threshold or for “other valid reasons.”

Tarana and other fixed wireless stakeholders are hoping that states will seek waivers of the requirement to deploy fiber broadband so that they can direct funding to less costly fixed wireless builds, thereby reaching more people.

In the absence of those waivers, “we will run out of money and will not be [addressing] the Digital Divide today because of how long it takes to lay all that fiber,” said Carl Guardino, vice president of government affairs for Tarana, in an interview with Telecompetitor.

They aren’t wrong. Fiber is more expensive, but it is more reliable. Wireless is impacted by capacity, weather and line of sight issues. So… Do we reach the most people we can? Or do we reach the areas with the hardest business case to make for investment? Or judge by terrain? And if there is a demarcation of where to deploy fiber and wireless – are we creating future broadband ghettos? Yes, a person without broadband now will happily take a wireless connection – but will new people or businesses move into those areas?

The future is both wired and wireless. Communities, residents and businesses that have both are better poised for success. Maybe we ask for more money.

Will Minnesota’s municipal network barriers delay BEAD funding?

Broadband Now reports

For decades, municipal broadband operations have been subject to a minefield of restrictions and barriers designed to make the prospect of establishing or maintaining a community broadband network costly, difficult, and unsustainable.

There are currently 17 states in total that have restrictive legislation against municipal broadband networks in the U.S. To explore further, see a directory of all internet providers in the United States or enter a ZIP code to find all internet providers in your area.

Although no states have managed to remove their restrictions in 2022, 2023 could be the year that things begin to change for states that have historically been opposed to allowing for a public option. A key stipulation in the language surrounding the BEAD grants may set up a large-scale, politically motivated battleground.

Minnesota is on that list…

Minnesota

Minn. Stat. Ann. § 237.19Minn. Stat. Ann. § 429.021

Minnesota state laws require municipal governments proposing to offer telecommunications exchange to obtain a referendum “supermajority” of 65% of voters to proceed. Municipal governments are able to construct, extend, improve and maintain facilities for Internet access only if the city council finds that the proposed broadband network and service will not compete with existing services provided by private telecom companies, or if such services are not and will not be available through private telecom companies in the foreseeable future.

Find and Compare Internet Providers in Minnesota.

The Legislature is in session now. Now would be a good time to look into what would be needed to remove of minimize the barrier.

MN Senate passes bill with $100M for broadband grants

KIMT3 News reports

Minnesota lawmakers in the State Senate passed the first massive spending bill of the session on a bipartisan vote of 58-7 on Thursday.

The Omnibus Agriculture, Broadband and Rural Development Bill costs around $145 million dollars and funds ag programs. research, food shelves, tax credits for farmers that are selling their property and broadband internet expansions in rural communities.

The latter would receive $100 million dollars to spread broadband to unserved and underserved areas across the state.

One of those programs includes the Lower Population Density Grant Program, which would help fund 75% of rural broadband costs in communities that need it.

Minnesota Republican Senators Westrom and Lang both noted that they were disappointed that bill didn’t invest more. In January 2023, Governor Walz recommended $276 million for broadband.

 

More on MN PUC’s case on LTD Broadband: Dep of Commerce says suspend ETC – LTD disagrees

Yesterday I posted an update from the Minnesota PUC on the ongoing saga of LTD Broadband and the PUC looking into revoking their ETC status, a status they needed to get federal funding. (I went into greater details on the history yesterday.) Documents filed yesterday indicated that the Department of Commerce recommended the PUC continue looking into the revocation.

Today’s update, goes farther. This time the Department of Commerce recommends that the MN PUC also suspend LTD Broadband’s ETC designation during this time…

The Office of the Attorney General—Residential Utilities Division (“OAG”) files this Response in support of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance and Minnesota Rural Electric Association’s (“Petitioners”) Motion to Suspend ETC Designation (“Motion to Suspend”) and Motion to Certify. Granting the Motion to Suspend will protect ratepayers from being harmed if the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) reverses its decision to deny LTD Broadband, LLC’s (“LTD”) long-form application (“Application”) for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”) funding by (1) ensuring RDOF money does not flow to LTD before the Commission determines whether LTD is capable of performing adequately, and (2) enabling other potential providers to seek federal funding to build out rural broadband service in the event LTD cannot deliver. Granting the Motion to Certify will allow the Commission to use its unique expertise to decide issues that could have important consequences for rural broadband development.

Today’s update also includes a response from LTD Broadband saying they disagree with the petitions to motion to suspend and motion to certify…

LTD Broadband, LLC (“LTD”), by its counsel and pursuant to Minn. R. 1400.6600, hereby responds to the “Motion to Certify” filed on March 29, 2023 by the Minnesota Telecom Alliance (“MTA”) and the Minnesota Rural Electric Association (“MREA”) (together, the “Movants”)1 seeking to return this matter to the Commission for immediate consideration of a separate Motion to Suspend ETC Designation2 (“Motion to Suspend” and together with the “Motion to Certify,” the “Motions”) for certain areas in Minnesota.3 Together, the Motions seek to embroil the Commission in entirely unnecessary and potentially lengthy proceedings on the basis of speculation, inconsistent logic, and a fundamentally inaccurate characterization of the posture of LTD’s application for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”) support before the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”). The Motions are simply a backdoor attempt to extinguish arbitrarily LTD’s efforts to secure RDOF funding prior to any FCC action on LTD’s pending Application for Review4 in the speculative hope that such an outcome would result in MTA and MREA members obtaining funding under alternative programs in lieu of LTD – the same objective these parties have sought to attain by various means from the moment LTD submitted its application to expand its Minnesota ETC designation.

There has been no change in the circumstances of LTD’s Application for Review that led to the ALJ’s January 18, 2023 order staying the proceedings that the Commission delegated to him,5 and therefore no reason to change the posture of this case and require the state and LTD to expend considerable time and expense in a hearing that may be entirely unnecessary. Nor does the prospect of future broadband funding create an immediacy requiring that the current stay be lifted and the matter be turned back to the Commission. For these reasons, the Motion to Certify should be promptly denied and the present stay should remain in effect pending any further action by the FCC.

Here are their reasons, which they elaborate on in their remarks…

  • The Motions Misstate the Nature of the Relief the FCC May Grant in Ruling on LTD’s Application for Review.
  • The Motions Mount a Collateral Attack on the FCC’s Statutorily Mandated Obligation to Administer the Federal RDOF Program.
  • The Motions Inconsistently Rely Heavily Upon Initial FCC Staff Fact Finding While Unreasonably Disparaging the FCC’s Ability to Render Competently a Final Decision on LTD’s Ability to Meet Its RDOF Obligations.
  • Grant of the Motion to Certify and Further Consideration of the Motion to Suspend Would Squander Judicial and Administrative Resources.

Dep of Commerce recommends MN PUC continue investigation into LTD Broadband’s TEC status

The Minnesota PUC decided to continue to move forward to look at revoking LTD Broadband’s ETC designation. (Background: LTD was awarded an opportunity to apply for$311 million in federal RDOF funding. They needed the ETC designation from the MN PUC to qualify; industry folks asked the MN PUC to rethink their designation because there were concerns about LTD being able to fulfill the contract. Last month, their application for RDOF was rejected.)

Last month, MTA (MN Telecom Alliance) and MREA (Minnesota Rural Electric Association) asked the PUC to suspend LTD Broadband’s ETC status while they are under consideration for ETC revocation. There is a prehearing conference scheduled for April 24. Documents and information for that meeting have been posted on the MN PUC website. The most recent is from the Department of Commerce and signed by MN Attorney General Keith Ellison and supports the position to continue on the case…

Pursuant to Minn. R. 1400.6600 (2021), the Minnesota Department of Commerce respectfully requests that the Administrative Law Judge grant the Petitioners’ motion to certify the January 18 decision to stay this proceeding during the pendency of LTD Broadband’s Federal Communications Commission administrative appeal.1 THIRD PREHEARING ORDER (Jan. 18, 2023) (eDocket No. 20231-192240-01) (“Stay Order”); Petitioners’ Motion to Certify (Mar. 29, 2023) (eDocket No. 20233-194309-04). A Commission order directing the parties to proceed with this contested case would facilitate the ultimate termination of the matter and full record development prior to an FCC decision. While judicial economy is an important consideration, it should not come at the expense of other critical public interests. In this case, those interests include the sound stewardship of limited public resources—approximately $31 million a year—to an entity that may be incapable of delivering on its commitments to Minnesota.

The last sentence says a lot. The entire statement is surprisingly easy to read for those of us not steeped in legalese but I’m going to excerpt the part that it most pertinent to this update…

Although it is possible that the FCC may ultimately deny LTD’s appeal, Minnesota should still undertake a contested case proceeding now. If LTD’s administrative appeal prevails, absent suspension or resolution of this proceeding, federal support would begin flowing to LTD. 47 C.F.R. § 54.802(d) (2022); see, e.g., In re Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, WC Docket No. 19- 126, Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Support For 7,608 Winning Bids Ready to Be Authorized (Dec. 16, 2021). While this would be an acceptable outcome if LTD possesses the technical, managerial, and financial capability to deliver on its commitments, Petitioners have raised allegations that suggest LTD may be unable to deliver:

  • LTD has made significantly different construction cost representations to state agencies when seeking grant support than to the FCC for RDOF support. Thompson Decl. at 11.

  • LTD’s construction cost estimates are significantly less than those developed by Petitioners’ engineering consultants. Id. at 13.

  • The South Dakota commission already concluded that LTD lacked the capacity to construct and operate a much smaller network in South Dakota. In re Appl. of LTD Broadband, LLC for Designation as an ETC for Purposes of Receiving Federal Universal Support, Docket No. TC21-001, FINAL DECISION & ORDER DENYING APPLICATION at 16-17 (SD PUC Mar. 21, 2022).

  • LTD has already defaulted on RDOF locations in Iowa, Nebraska, and North Dakota, California, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction (Auction 904), DA 21-908, Order ¶ 16 (July 26, 2021); Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction (Auction 904), DA 21-1311, Order ¶ 18 (Oct. 20, 2021).

In addition to advancing this proceeding towards termination, lifting the Stay Order would reduce the risks associated with a sudden FCC reversal; namely, funding flowing to an entity the Commission ultimately concludes is incapable of delivering on its commitments. The secondary consequences of such an outcome are equally concerning. Alternative state and federal funding would no longer be available. Motion to Suspend at 21. Minnesotans in communities designated for RDOF support via LTD would continue to lack access to high-quality broadband and voice services. Given the important public considerations at stake and the time sensitivity of this proceeding, this factor supports certification of the Stay Order to the Commission

And here is their conclusion…

For the reasons discussed above, the Department respectfully requests that the Administrative Law Judge grant Petitioners’ motion to certify the Stay Order to the Commission.

Will broadband companies have to buy American when they expand? Maybe.

Bloomberg reports

President Joe Biden made clear in his State of the Union address last month that as the US spends billions of dollars on new broadband connections, “we’re going to buy American.”

But that aspiration is easier said than done. While there seems to be enough domestic fiber optic cable to connect communities, the electronic components such as routers that transform glass strands into data highways are made mainly in other countries.

Cable providers, chip makers and wireless carriers are pleading for relief from the requirement to “buy American,” saying they can’t build new networks without foreign electronics. Otherwise the broadband buildup that Biden has set as a priority will be delayed by years as domestic sources are developed.

But it seems like there’s a way around it…

Administration officials have offered mixed signals on the possibility of issuing waivers for those products. …

Still, the agency is set to issue a waiver for another broadband subsidy, the $1 billion Middle Mile Grant Program that helps fund lines between local networks, said a Commerce Department official briefed on the matter who spoke on condition of not being named because the action isn’t final. The waiver is justified, the agency earlier noted, since the fiber optic cable is assembled in Mexico, while about two-thirds of the value in network devices is derived from components sourced from Asia.

Companies need to be assured they will get permission to buy foreign electronics before they’ll break ground to lay new broadband lines, said Dave Stehlin, chief executive officer of the Telecommunications Industry Association. Members of the trade group include chipmakers Cisco Systems Inc. and Qualcomm Inc., Nokia Oyj and Ericsson AB.

“A waiver has to be in place by then,” Stehlin said in an interview. “No service provider’s is going to dig a hole, lay a fiber cable, and hope and pray as they wait for the electronics. They’re going to wait until they have everything lined up. So the longer we wait, the longer it is before these unserved and underserved people actually have broadband.”

We’ll see how this plays out and who has access to the waivers.

Mini update on MN PUC upcoming prehearing on LTD Broadband

This seems like an update that’s too small to post, but it is nice to have everything archived in one place. What we learned last week…

The follow up is that a prehearing conference has been set for April 24 and the Institute for Local Self Reliance has submitted a file a notice of appearance.

Today we learned that the Institute for Local Self Reliance will appear at the prehearing conference and all subsequent proceedings in the above-entitled matter.

And some background for folks who are walking into the movie midway…

The Minnesota PUC decided to continue to move forward looking at revoking LTD Broadband’s ETC designation. (Background: LTD was awarded an opportunity to apply for$311 million in federal RDOF funding. They needed the ETC designation from the MN PUC to qualify; industry folks asked the MN PUC to rethink their designation because there were concerns about LTD being able to fulfill the contract. Last month, their application for RDOF was rejected.)

$100 million for MN Broadband is a start to reaching state goals – not a closer

Hutchinson Leader reports on the $100 million proposed funding in the Minnesota Legislature. Here’s how the math used indicates that even with that funding and optimistic estimates of federal funding, we’re going to need another  $426 million…

About 88% of households and businesses in the state had access to that level of broadband in October, according to estimates released in a report by the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband. In rural areas, about only 62% have what the state deems to be adequate broadband, an issue that became even more of a problem during the COVID-19 pandemic when many more people were forced to work at home and kids attended school online.

The gap in broadband coverage is because of money. Developers say some areas are too sparse, or the terrain is too difficult, to make building infrastructure worth the cost. That’s why the state and federal government subsidize construction of infrastructure — like digging routes to deploy fiber-optic cable — to entice internet providers into rural areas.

State officials estimate it would cost $2.76 billion to serve the 291,000 households and businesses that lack the infrastructure for fast service. It’s an eye-popping price tag, but most of the money would not come from the Minnesota Legislature.

State grants typically require a 50% match from broadband developers or others involved in the project, like city and county governments, meaning the state government is only responsible for half the cost.

The federal government has also pitched in a great deal to help Minnesota cover the remaining $1.38 billion of that $2.76 billion. The task force estimated Minnesota could get $968 million from the feds, most of it coming from the infrastructure bill that passed Congress in 2021.

That leaves a roughly $426 million price tag for Minnesota to reach its goals, an estimate that includes administrative costs and is based on a 50% match program. The price tag is still speculative, said Bree Maki, director of Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development at the Department of Employment and Economic Development. That’s because factors like construction costs can be a moving target.

Both MN House and Senate ag and finance omnibus bills include $100 million for broadband

The League of Minnesota Cities reports

Both House and Senate omnibus agriculture policy and finance bills include $100 million in additional one-time general fund spending over the next biennium for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program that assists with broadband infrastructure deployment in hard-to-reach areas.

The House bill, HF 2278 (Rep. Samantha Vang, DFL-Brooklyn Center) as amended by a delete-all amendment (pdf) and the Senate bill, SF 1955 (Aric Putnam, DFL-St. Cloud) as amended by a delete-all amendment (pdf), include identical language that fully funds the Office of Broadband Development, provides additional resources for the grant program, and makes permanent the Low-Density Broadband Development Grant Program that was introduced as a pilot program last session.

Specific provisions in the bill regarding broadband include:

  • An additional $100 million in one-time funding over the next biennium for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program.
    • Of the $100 million, $20 million is reserved each year of the biennium for the lower population density grant program.
  • Elimination of the pilot program for lower population density proposals and establishes in statute a permanent Lower-Density Broadband Development Grant Program that is eligible to fund awards up to 75% of the total project cost rather than 50% for normal border-to-border grants.

The League will continue to work with stakeholders, bill authors, and the conference committee to ensure this language remains in the final agreed upon agriculture omnibus bill.