How MN Congress members voted on Net Neutrality and Internet Tax Freedom

Thanks to Mankato Free Press for tracking how MN members of congress are voting. There were several issues they tracked, I’m just pulling from anything technology-related…

HOUSE

Return of ‘net neutrality’ rules: Voting 232 for and 190 against, the House on April 10 passed a bill (HR 1644) that would reinstate and write into law Federal Communications Commission “net neutrality” rules implemented in 2016 during the Obama administration but repealed in 2017 during the Trump administration. The rules require the Internet to be made equally accessible to all users. They prohibit service providers such as Verizon and Comcast from offering faster content delivery to customers in return for higher fees while leaving other customers in a slower lane. The bill gives the FCC permanent authority to prevent Internet gatekeepers from blocking or throttling customer access, and it retains FCC programs that expand broadband access in rural areas and make the Internet more accessible to low-income persons.

A yes vote was to send the bill to the Senate.

Minnesota

Voting yes: Angie Craig, D-2; Dean Phillips, D-3; Betty McCollum, D-4; Ilhan Omar, D-5; Collin Peterson, D-7

Voting no: Jim Hagedorn, R-1, Tom Emmer, R-6, Pete Stauber, R-8

Not voting: None

Internet Tax Freedom Act

Voting 204 for and 216 against, the House on April 10 defeated a Republican motion that would prevent HR 1644 (above) from overriding the Internet Tax Freedom Act, a 1998 law that prohibits state and local taxation of Internet service providers. Democrats said the bill already protects the Internet’s tax-free status.

Voting yes: Hagedorn, Craig, Emmer, Stauber

Voting no: Phillips, McCollum, Omar, Peterson

Timberjay suggests that Relocating government jobs could significantly boost rural Minnesota

The Timberjay applauds Walz’s efforts to use broadband to boost jobs and suggests that some of those jobs could be State jobs…

Gov. Tim Walz has rightly made boosting the economic prospects of rural Minnesota a key part of his One Minnesota agenda.

Major investment in rural broadband, which is high on the governor’s agenda, is certainly one way to provide new economic opportunity in non-metro parts of the state. His plan to boost local government aid and education funding will also yield benefits for rural Minnesota.

They also make the case that once broadband is available, the door opens to moving State jobs…

But here’s one more thing that should be on the governor’s agenda: Spreading more of the state workforce outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The state of Minnesota is an enormous employer, with a permanent workforce that averages about 35,000 people. Right now, about 21,000 of those employees, or about 61 percent, work in the seven-county metro area. That leaves just over 13,000 jobs spread out across the rest of Minnesota, about a quarter of those with the Department of Natural Resources.

Vast Broadband brings Gig access to Marshall, Pipestone and Worthington MN – and parts of South Dakota

According to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader

Vast Broadband, whose service area includes communities in eastern South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota, now offers 1 gigbit-per-second service in the area.

It joins several other internet providers in the area offering the new, faster 1-gig service.

Vast’s service area in the region Sioux Falls, Watertown, Yankton, Madison and Elk Point in South Dakota and Marshall, Pipestone and Worthington in Minnesota. The launch completes Vast’s rollout of the 1-gig service to its customer base, including customers in the Black Hills.

Prices start at $79.99 a month with no data caps or contract.

MN Broadband bill moves from Ways and Means to General Register

Yesterday HF2208 passed from Ways and Means to General Register with no discussion.

Most of the discussion happened on Monday (Apr 8) where the removed $15 million from the broadband grant, which had been an addition to the original bill. Now the broadband grant budget is $70 million for the biennium.

The bill was going to Taxes and then back to Ways and Means, then to General Register. BUT there are no longer tax provisions in the bill now and so the move is to pass it onto the General Register.

I was in another meeting yesterday so wasn’t there live. Turns out it was a god move to wait for the movie – the whole process take about 2 minutes.

Hands free phones for drivers is close to happening in MN

I haven’t covered this much, because it’s not very broadband-focused but it certainly is technology-related. MPR reports

The final version of a cell phone bill affecting Minnesota drivers is halfway home.

The Minnesota House voted 107-19 on Tuesday to restrict motorist phone use to hands-free mode. The Senate could vote Wednesday to send the bill to Gov. Tim Walz, who plans to sign it.

It gives law enforcement the ability to stop and ticket drivers seen holding a phone.

There are some exceptions…

The bill makes exceptions for people to use a navigation system as long as they are not holding the phone. Any programming would have to be done outside the course of traffic. People could also make calls in an emergency. It also allows people to pull off to the shoulder or, if not in an area normally used for traffic, to activate a phone feature by hand.

Acceptable workarounds would be through a speakerphone, an earbud headphone (authorities say only one ear is allowed) or by using a wireless feature built into many cars.

Some are opposed…

Opponents of the bill — all 19 who voted against that were Republicans — argued the restriction isn’t the solution that supporters are after.

Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal, said text-by-voice and other wireless phone features are equally distracting for drivers.

It does make me hope that the day of driverless cars comes quickly! Or Uber for kids – because in my life kids are the biggest cause of driving and distraction!

Telehealth use doubles between 2016 and 2017

According to Multi-Briefs Exclusive

Telehealth use rose by more than 50% from 2016 to 2017, according to a new white paper by Fair Health. For the annually released paper, data was collected from the company’s records of 28 billion commercial insurance claims, which showed that telehealth utilization grew nearly twice as fast in urban areas vs. rural over that span.

Nationally, urgent-care centers increased their use of telehealth by at least 14%, followed by retail clinics at 7% and ambulatory surgery centers at 6%. Emergency department utilization of telehealth declined, though, by 2%. However, utilization in this setting was still the most used.

Also on the upswing was utilization by private insurance claims for telehealth services, increasing more than 1,200% from 2012 to 2017. Likewise, the use of telehealth is outpacing all other sites of care, the report says.

In 2017, most people used telehealth for injuries like bruises and open wounds, acute respiratory infections and digestive problems. Mental health, which topped the telehealth utilization list in 2016, was fifth in 2017 at 7% of claims, compared with 13% for the aforementioned uses. Per the report, pediatric visits and young adults were well-served, but the age 31 to 60 demographic continued to use it the most.

And interesting note – Minnesota was one of the top telehealth claim reporters in 2016 – but not in 2017. IN fact none of the top users in 2016 were top users in 2017. It shows the speed with which telehealth is catching on.

MN House Ways and Means – discusses broadband grants – decides on $70 million for biennium

The meeting begins the process of mining bills and getting them to align with Senate versions. They are working on bills that will incorporate with Jobs Bill to align with Senate. They will be re-referred to tax committee – not directly to the floor.

Rep Ecklund moves HF7 (Broadband grants). There was an amendment to remove $15 million that Rep Layman added in the last meeting. Removing the added funds puts the budget in line with target budget. (Amendment was accepted.)

There was no policy added to the bill. They talked about policy earlier but decided to work on policy next year and focus on funding this year.

Rep Kresha adds that the grants have worked very well and leaving off policy might help them work even better.

Rep Garofalo promotes fixed wireless, cellular and satellite as a viable options. Rep Drazowski agrees with Garofalo.

They also discuss Net Neutrality. There was some concern that providers that got broadband grants from the state would not be required to adhere to  the Net Neutrality clauses that had been put in place – especially when it comes to retransmission fees. (Those are fees charged from fee-based content providers. Also some questions about what had happened to $488,000 cost for Net Neutrality, which had apparently been absorbed into the budget.