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.

Job Opportunity: Broadband Development Manager at Office of Broadband Development

It seems like this would be a good fit for someone reading the blog…

Job Class: State Program Administrator Manager Senior

Working Title:  Broadband Development Manager

Who May Apply: Open to all qualified job seekers
Date Posted:  05/09/2019
Closing Date:  05/29/2019
Hiring Agency/Seniority Unit: Employment & Economic Development
Division/Unit:  Office of Broadband Development
Work Shift/Work Hours: Day Shift
Days of Work: Monday – Friday
Travel Required: Yes
Salary Range: $35.74 – $51.41/hourly; $74,625 – $107,344/annually
Classified Status: Unclassified
Connect 700 Program Eligible: No

Job Summary

This is a temporary unclassified position with an expected duration of up to two years.

This position is responsible for managing broadband program processes, staff and workflows, working with stakeholders on broadband development initiatives, the creation and implementation of program support activities; including those of the state’s Border-to-Border broadband grant program, and providing technical assistance to communities, associations and telecommunications providers in broadband development efforts throughout Minnesota.

Job Duties:

-Develop, manage and implement broadband program processes to support the broadband goals and priorities as defined by the agency and state statute in consultation with the Executive Director.
-Provide management and direction to broadband grant program staff.
-Promote DEED broadband programs and activities.
-Manage the broadband technical assistance program which serves grantees, communities, associations and providers in supporting broadband development activities.

Minimum Qualifications:

Bachelor’s Degree

AND

Supervisory or managerial experience supervising direct reports of a professional level with demonstrated skills in hiring, setting priorities, training, providing work direction, performance management, coaching and developing staff;

AND

Grants management experience;

AND

Experience with broadband development activities, including working with broadband providers and communities on planning and development activities

ADDITIONAL MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS

Experience in financial analysis and operational budgets
Good problem-solving skills
Ability to deliver public presentations
Ability to create and deliver education and training materials
Excellent written and verbal communications skills
Excellent human relations skills sufficient to perform supervisory duties and effectively develop and maintain relationships with a diverse client set

Preferred Qualifications:

Master’s degree
Three or more years of professional experience in a broadband-related field
Project management experience
Process improvement experience

Additional Requirements

Resumes of all applicants to this posting will be evaluated against the Minimum Qualifications stated above.  If your skills match the required skills for this positon, the department may contact you.  Employee reference checks will be conducted on all finalists.  This may include a review of documentation related to job performance.  It includes contact with the applicant’s current and/or former employers.

A Criminal Background Check will be conducted on all finalists for this position.  A criminal conviction will not automatically remove you from consideration for employment.

When the position requires travel and the applicant drives a state owned or leased vehicle, a driver’s license and record check will be conducted

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.

 

Check out a hotspot from the Rock County library

Fun news for Rock County Library patrons (as found on their Facebook Page)…

The Rock County Library now has wifi hotspots to check out! We have five Verizon hotspots available for Rock County library card holders 18 years or older with cards in good standing (fees at $5 or below) to check out.

The hotspots check out for two weeks, can connect up to 15 devices per hotspot, and will work anywhere in the United States with Verizon coverage.

Our partnership with the Blandin Foundation and Rock County’s involvement as a Blandin Broadband Community has made this possible.