Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Report

The folks who manage Universal Service and the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) programs just published a report on EBB, the fund established during the COVID pandemic to subsidize broadband access to make it more affordable to households that needed that help. In Minnesota, 76,301 households have signed up for EBB.

Here are some of the other stats…

MN Broadband Task Force asks Governor Walz to expedite and increase request for federal funds for broadband

The MN Broadband Task Force sent a letter to Governor Walz, Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman, Senator Erin Murphy, and Representative Debra Kiel…

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act funding that Minnesota is slated to receive, there is a Sec. 604
Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund that is intended to be used “to carry out critical capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options, in response to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).” The U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury), which is charged with administering this fund, notes on its website that a
purpose of this funding is to “contribute to the Administration’s goal of providing every American with
the modern infrastructure necessary to access critical services, including a high-quality and affordable
broadband internet connection.”
In August 2021, Treasury identified the amount of Sec. 604 funding that would be allocated to each state; Minnesota’s allocation is $180,702,620. In September 2021, Treasury issued guidance as to how the Capital Projects Fund dollars may be used and broadband infrastructure projects were identified as a presumptively eligible use.
In the 2021 Minnesota legislative session, language was passed to fund the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant program with $70 million over the biennium and with that funding coming from the Capital Projects Fund. This decision was made prior to either information being released regarding Minnesota’s total allocation or guidance on allowed uses.
Minnesota is required to apply for this funding by December 27, 2021 and once its application is
approved and an agreement signed with Treasury, the state must submit a Grant Plan and a Program Plan(s) outlining how it intends to use the state’s allocation of $180,702,620. The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband would urge the state to submit its application as soon as possible and once an agreement is in place, file a Grant Plan and Program Plan to use all the funding for the state’s Border-to-Border
Broadband Infrastructure grant program. With prompt approval by Treasury, the Office of Broadband
Development could then open a grant window and approve projects in time to be built, or at least started, during the 2022 construction season. As you are aware, Minnesota’s construction season is shortened due to weather and it is imperative to get the ball rolling as soon as possible.
The guidance issued by Treasury indicates that any home or business in Minnesota that does not have a reliable, wireline broadband service of at least 100Mbps download and 20Mbps upload is eligible for this funding. The latest data available shows that there are at least 240,000 households in Minnesota without a broadband connection meeting those speeds. Assuming an average cost of $5,527 per location to deliver a broadband service (taken from the Task Force’s 2020 annual report), deploying service to those 240,000 households would require funding of over $1.3 billion. Even assuming the grant portion for that funding is capped at 50 percent as it is under current state law for the Border-to-Border Broadband grant program, funding of $663 million would still be necessary.
While Minnesota has been a leader amongst the states with its Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure grant program having awarded $126.2 million to reach approximately 57,000 locations with broadband service between 2014 and 2020, the state is falling behind. In March 2021, Wisconsin awarded over $24.8 million for 58 projects, in October 2021 Wisconsin awarded $100 million to 83 projects and in early November announced that the next grant window to award another $100 million will open December 1, 2021. In October 2021, Iowa announced that it would make available another $200 million for broadband grants in addition to the $100 million in grants announced in September 2021 as part of its Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program. A few other examples include Missouri announcing it will use at least $400 million for broadband infrastructure; Ohio is using $250
million to improve high speed internet service; Texas Governor Abbott just signed a bill allocating $500
million for broadband infrastructure; and Virginia has plans to use $700 million to provide universal
broadband by 2024.
The pandemic has made clear the need for fast, reliable broadband service to all homes and businesses in the state. Federal funding is available to get that infrastructure deployed. Broadband is the foundational element that is a force multiplier for all other issues. We need it to better address critical challenges and build economic opportunity, competitiveness, and prosperity. The state has in place a
nationally recognized broadband office and grant program. All that is needed is for the Governor and
the Legislature to direct the available federal funding to the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure grant program so that the real work of building out the infrastructure to meet the state’s broadband
goals can be achieved. The time is now to invest in our communities.
Thank you for your prompt consideration of this request.
Sincerely,
Teddy Bekele
Chair, Governor’s Broadband Task Force

MN Hospitals receive funding from FCC for telehealth

Fox9 reports

St. Paul’s Regions Hospital is receiving $1 million of federal funding for telehealth services.

The funding comes from the Federal Communications Commission’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith announced Thursday. It will be used to buy a remote patient care telehealth platform.

“The pandemic has shown us how telehealth services have been a lifeline for patients across Minnesota who may otherwise not be able to access the health care they need,” said Smith in the press release. “This funding will help Regions Hospital continue to use telehealth to make health care accessible to patients who are unable to get services in person.”

Along with the $1 million for Regions Hospital, Klobuchar and Smith secured funding for the expansion of telehealth services for these health providers in Minnesota:

  • $21,533 for Native American Community Clinic in Minneapolis
  • $498,818 for Minnesota Community Care in St. Paul
  • $234,352 for CentraCare Health System, the largest provider for rural Minnesota communities
  • $120,305 for Nett Lake Health Services in northern Minnesota
  • $981,204 for Essentia Health in Duluth

The funds will allow providers to expand patient access by purchasing more telehealth equipment like laptops and monitoring devices, as well as increase wireless broadband coverage at several clinics.

Need a timeline or checklist to follow federal funding? Benton has one!

The Benton Institute for Broadband and Society has put together a nice list of funding expectations for 2022 and some forecasts for 2023-24. Here’s just the start…

Having waited patiently for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, now people want to know what happens next—when will we all get our broadband? For now, the action shifts from Congress to key federal agencies that will implement the broadband provisions of the new law. Our friends at Brookings recently pointed out that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act “represents a longer-term patient approach to rebuilding American competitiveness through infrastructure.” The law makes our biggest investment yet in closing the digital divide, an investment measured in years, not weeks—and an approach much more holistic than throwing money at a problem. In the short term, here are the agencies we expect to be busy making sure the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act lives up to its promise.

What To Expect This Year

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act did not create the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, but the law instructs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) at the U.S. Department of Commerce to allow grantees more time to deploy broadband networks and help more people get online. Congress also added $2 billion in funding to the program. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, created the grant program, setting aside $980 million for awards. In September, NTIA announced it had received more than 280 applications requesting over $5 billion in support. NTIA expects to complete its review, selection of successful applicants, and award processing by November 29, 2021. NTIA expects the earliest start date for awards to be December 13, 2021.

Le Sueur County is working on better broadband with local champion Barbara Dröher Kline

After a broadband provider that will meet the needs, the strongest tool for a community that needs better broadband is a local champion. It was fun to see the New Prague Times give a nod to a strong champion in Le Sueur County – Barbara Dröher Kline…

“If you’re looking for a silver lining in this pandemic, improved broadband service in Le Sueur County is one.”
– Barbara Dröher Kline

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Le Sueur County has spent $1.7 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to improve the speed and reliability of internet service throughout the county.

It might seem like a cause-and-effect situation, as stay-at-home orders and mandated distance learning highlighted the need—or lack of—good, quality internet access. However, the groundwork, which made the county’s large-scale improvement projects possible during 2020, was laid by a small citizen task force, years prior to the pandemic.

The movement began in early 2018 when Barbara Dröher Kline of Union Hill was running for the Minnesota House of Representatives District 20A seat. She and her husband had moved to the area in 2016 and were frustrated with their slow, unreliable internet service. Their frustration grew after learning their neighbor had a fiber internet connection (built with a state grant), which allows for better, more reliable internet service—a service the Dröher Kline household was not eligible for because of the telephone area in which it is located.

After attending a regional summit on broadband, Dröher Kline met with her county commissioner, John King, and County Administrator Darrell Pettis about the opportunity to work with the Blandin Foundation, a rural foundation that supports local broadband planning.

The article goes on to give a brief history of broadband in Le Sueur, which Barbara is still working on.

Most affordable towns to work remotely from in Minnesota

Minneapolis St Paul Business Journal reports on most affordable places to work from home in Minnesota…

The ranking comes from New York-based financial and technology company SmartAsset.

To compile a list of the most affordable places to live in Minnesota, the tech company used a variety of factors, including taxes, homeowner insurance and home costs relative to local median income. (You can see the full list here.)

The list of Minnesota’s most affordable places is below:

  1. Montevideo
  2. Redwoods Falls
  3. International Falls
  4. Ostego
  5. Hibbing
  6. Austin
  7. St. Michael
  8. Virginia
  9. Albert Lea
  10. Litchfield

These affordable towns are in a good position to recruit residents and businesses to their location, especially since COVID has moved many people to remote work options and opened the door to living anywhere. So I wanted to take a look at these cities and their broadband ranking – or at least the ranking of their county. Turns out they are all over the place from 31 to 85. Some of the towns listed would definitely rank higher than their county. Monticello, for example,  has a municipal fiber network; Austin has been talking about broadband for years; Redwood Falls was focused on broadband 10 years ago. I’d say, however, that having good broadband and being affordable might boost a community to the top of a “potential new home” list.

City County Affordability Rank Broadband Rank (100/20)
Montevideo Chippewa 1 37
Redwood Falls Redwood 2 85
International Falls Koochiching 3 60
Ostego Wright 4 31
Hibbing St Louis 5 44
Austin Mower 6 35
St Michael Wright 7 31
Virginia St Louis 8 44
Albert Lea Freeborn 9 32
Litchfield Meeker 10 72

 

 

 

 

Nurse Licensure Compact would allow MN to ease licensure for telehealth

The Duluth New Tribune posts a column on health care and how to remove a barrier to make telehealth easier…

First, Minnesota should join the national Nurse Licensure Compact. When the pandemic hit, Minnesota needed all the qualified medical professionals it could get, but licensing proved to be an obstacle to qualified health care workers from outside the state putting their skills to use here. Gov. Tim Walz eventually signed an order allowing health care workers licensed in other states to work in our state, but a permanent solution would be for our state to join the national Nurse Licensure Compact.

The compact allows a nurse to have one license in their primary state of residence with authority to practice in person or via telehealth in other compact states, with the requirement that they follow the nurse practice act of each state. As the Minnesota Board of Nursing says, the compact “advances public protection and access to care through the mutual recognition of one state-based license that is enforced locally and recognized nationally.” At present, 34 states are members of the compact.

CBS MN reports $100M for broadband in latest Infrastructure bill

CBS Minnesota reports

A new infrastructure package awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature in Washington includes $65 billion in order to bridge digital divides.

That includes at least $100 million for Minnesota — if not more.

“While the pandemic sort of highlighted the issues that we have and the gaps that we have, the need for the high-speed broadband doesn’t go away when the pandemic is over,” said Marc Johnson, executive director of the East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative and a member of the Governor’s Taskforce on Broadband.

He pointed to forthcoming data from the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development that indicates 171,000 households in Minnesota have little to no broadband access and another 240,000 are considered underserved because they don’t meet the state goal of broadband speeds of 100/20 Mbps by 2026.

The Erickson’s speed? 5.37 Mbps. That’s the difference between minutes and hours to upload large files. Some Minnesotans have to transfer files overnight to make it work.

Johnson also noted that the legislature this session flagged $70 million for over two years, which will help the state’s efforts to bring everyone online with adequate speeds, he said, but isn’t enough to cross the “finish line.” The parts of the state that need connection are the most expensive.

He noted that $100 million per state for broadband is the baseline, and that number could increase based on need.

“It’s very, very encouraging for the state,” Johnson said. “We’re very excited about that.”

Minnesota Senator and Congress member response to the Infrastructure Expansion Act of 2021

KARE 11 reports on Minnesota response to the Infrastructure Expansion Act of 2021…

Representative Dean Phillips says the package will provide the following for Minnesota:

  • Highways: $4.5 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and
  • Public transportation: $818 million to improve our public transportation
  • Water Infrastructure: $680 million over five years to improve water infrastructure
  • Bridges: $302 million for bridge replacement and repairs
  • Broadband internet: $100 million
  • Wildfire protection: $20 million
  • Cybersecurity: $17 million

The high level answer is that no Minnesota representatives were on the list of 13 Republicans who broke party ranks to vote for the infrastructure bill. US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was the only member of the delegation to break party ranks to vote against the infrastructure bill as it advanced without Build Back Better provisions. Here are quick takes from each…

U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum

“The Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act is a once-in-a-generation investment in our roads, bridges, and communities. It will help us maintain and improve our existing physical infrastructure, which Minnesotans know all too well is long overdue. It includes funding for clean energy innovation, electric vehicle infrastructure, transportation, and critical improvements to water infrastructure that will help protect public health. Today I voted to send this bill to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.”

U.S. Congresswoman Angie Craig

“Today, we made good on our promises to invest in America’s highways, roads, bridges and broadband for our rural communities. This bipartisan package will create millions of good-paying jobs, help our economic recovery and rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure for future generations. I’m proud to join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to deliver this historic achievement for Minnesotans.”

U.S. Congressman Dean Phillips 

“Investments in roads, bridges, waterways, energy, broadband, and the future of our nation is a unifying need and opportunity,” said Rep. Phillips. “This package will allow our nation to make smart, fiscally responsible investments in our infrastructure and in our people. We must send this legislation to President Biden’s desk as soon as possible, so we can get shovels in the ground and people to work.”

U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar

“From the beginning, I have been clear that I would not be able to support the infrastructure bill without a vote on the Build Back Better Act. Passing the infrastructure bill without passing the Build Back Better Act first risks leaving behind childcare, paid leave, health care, climate action, housing, education, and a roadmap to citizenship.”

“My community cannot wait any longer for these much-needed investments that will be delivered through the Build Back Better Act. I cannot in good conscience support the infrastructure bill without voting on the President’s transformative agenda first.”

U.S. Congressman Jim Hagedorn

“President Biden and House Democrats are working to push the most radical and extreme agenda in American history. Their schemes are littered with reckless leftwing planks to raise taxes, increase deficit spending, impose the Green New Deal, grant amnesty to illegals, expand welfare programs without work requirements, and woke so called “equity” programs that use race and identity to discriminate.

What is at our gates now is a Trojan Horse for the Democrats to force their socialist agenda on the American people. We must vehemently reject these harmful ideas and policies and return to commonsense and the time-tested principles: limited government, free enterprise capitalism, and fiscal responsibility. Only with a return to such principles and fighting for conservative values can we restore America’s greatness.”

U.S. Congressman Pete Stauber

“No one wants an infrastructure bill more than me, and I have long stated that it is important we return to regular order with a bicameral, bipartisan package that invests in traditional infrastructure projects, creates jobs, and spends taxpayer dollars wisely.

Regrettably, Nancy Pelosi and other Democrat leaders made it abundantly clear that the $1.2 trillion Senate infrastructure bill is inextricably linked to their bloated multi-trillion-dollar tax-and-spend package.

Make no mistake; a vote for this “infrastructure” package is a vote for the reckless multi-trillion-dollar tax-and-spend spree. That’s why I voted NO.”

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar

“With this bipartisan infrastructure package we came together across party lines to improve roads, highways, bridges, and public transit while greatly expanding broadband and addressing climate change by upgrading our power grid. We now must work to pass the Build Back Better Act to bring down costs for families, ensure Americans can afford lifesaving medications, and put us on the path to a green energy future.”

Faribault County one step closer to using CARES money for better broadband

The Fairmont Sentinel reports

The cities of Bricelyn, Delavan, Elmore and Frost moved another step closer in being able to begin a broadband project to install fiber optic cable in their cities, courtesy of a grant program.

Faribault County Economic Development Authority (EDA) specialist Annie Nichols attended the Faribault County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday to give an update on the project.

“The first step was to complete an environmental review,” Nichols told the commissioners. “This has been completed and we are waiting for the go ahead from DEED (Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development) to post it for review from other government agencies.”

Nichols asked the commissioners to set Dec. 21, during their regularly scheduled meeting, for a public hearing on the matter.

“This grant is money from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and. Economic Security) Act,” Nichols reminded the board. “I would also ask you to consider contracting with CCG Consulting to prepare the necessary documentation according to state and federal regulations. CCG Consulting is a full-service telecom consulting company and they have extensive knowledge on the grant programs.”

The board passed a motion to hire CCG Consulting to develop a RFP (Request for Proposal) and contract for an ISP (Internet Service Provider) and engineer for the project.

National Grange encourages US House members in MN to invest in broadband

MinnPost posts a column from Betsy Huber of president of the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, encouraging US Representatives to move forward with broadband funding…

Families across America’s heartland have had a difficult year and a half. The COVID-19 pandemic, the economic troubles it caused, and an ongoing labor shortage have made it more difficult than ever for America’s hardworking families in rural and agricultural communities to unlock the full potential of our modern economy.

This is especially true for those communities that disproportionately lack access to affordable and reliable broadband internet. To secure a future of prosperity for America’s rural communities, we need to completely bridge the digital divide and ensure every American has access to the digital technologies that support success in our modern world.

Substantial positive investments toward achieving the national goal of bridging the digital divide through broadband deployment, financial support for broadband service and digital skills training were included in the bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Investment Act recently passed by the U.S. Senate. Now, America’s rural communities are counting on the U.S. House of Representatives to swiftly pass this package, including the $65 billion down payment on closing the broadband gap.

The broadband investments included in the bipartisan infrastructure package and additional permanent solutions are urgently needed.

She appeals to MN legislators…

We encourage House lawmakers, including Reps. Jim Hagedorn, Angie Craig, Dean Phillips, Betty McCollum, Ilhan Omar, Tom Emmer, Michelle Fischbach and Pete Stauber, to swiftly pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and then build on the positive momentum for action by advancing additional solutions, like ensuring financial support for broadband is enough for families in every community to afford service.

Every American community, especially those in the heartland, is counting on their leadership to bridge the digital divide.

Kandiyohi County commits $330,000 ARP funding to broadband in Prinsburg

The West Central Tribune reports

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners has approved earmarking $330,000 of American Rescue Plan dollars toward a fiber-optic broadband project in Prinsburg. All premises within the city limits will have access to high-speed broadband after the project is constructed.

More details…

Prinsburg is considered underserved by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, with available wireline broadband internet speeds of at least 25 megabits download and 3 megabits upload. However, that is below the state standard of 100 megabits download and 20 megabits upload speeds to be considered served.

“It is a digital world today,” and cities such as Prinsburg need the internet speed to meet it, said Connie Schmoll, broadband consultant for the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

To try and bridge that gap and offer the higher speeds to residents, Prinsburg is partnering with Arvig Enterprises to construct a $1 million fiber-optic broadband system for the city. When complete, every premises within the city limits would have access to the state standard broadband speeds.

Arvig has committed to funding $450,000 toward the project, as well as providing all costs above $1 million. The city of Prinsburg will be using $45,000 of its American Rescue Plan Act economic stimulus funds for the project and will also be providing another $175,000 plus city legal and accounting fees.

“It falls in line with other projects we are looking at,” Schmoll said of the cost.

Kandiyohi County will be funding the remaining $330,000 for the project through its own American Rescue Plan Act allocation. The County Board approved allocating the funds at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Our board is very committed to broadband,” said Commissioner Corky Berg. “We do want to see the whole county eventually get it.”

The County Board has seriously been  considering earmarking the vast majority of its $8 million American Rescue Plan Act allocation to broadband projects across the county. It has already approved funding for a few projects, including $1.3 million to a project that will expand high-speed broadband to Dovre, Mamre, St. Johns and Arctander townships.

US Treasury opens Capital Projects Fund application September 24

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society gives a nice outline of the latest with Federal Funding for broadband…

This week, the Department of the Treasury released guidance for the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund program established by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The program allocates $10 billion for eligible governments to carry out critical capital projects that directly enable work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options. Projects eligible for funding must be designed to address a critical need that results from, or was made apparent or exacerbated by, the COVID-19 public health emergency. A key priority of this program is to make funds available to recipients that would like to make investments in high-quality, affordable broadband infrastructure and other digital connectivity technologies.

They outline who is eligible and what is required. (Primarily states are eligible.) Looks like they’ve peeked at the MN playbook – networks should serve areas not already served with 100 Mbps down and 20 up. Networks should scale to 100/100. They go beyond that to ask recipients to prioritize fiber and gov/public/nonprofit/coop ownership.

The good news is that the applications are open today – and I’m pretty sure Minnesota is ready. (That’s a “Minnesota pretty sure;” they have been ready and waiting for a while.

Access to tele-mental-health increases during pandemic

KSTP reports on increased access to tele mental health services during the pandemic, thanks to telehealth services and relaxed regulations

One of the bigger challenges highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the need to boost access to mental health care in many areas in the state.

In less populated areas of Greater Minnesota, change is taking place due to the work of a group of mental health professionals and other stakeholders who started working on the access issue even before the pandemic began.

For the first time, licensed drug and alcohol counselors are now eligible for Minnesota’s state-run loan forgiveness program.

“These recommendations highlight the need for continued efforts to strengthen the mental health care system in Greater Minnesota,” said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “Mental health is an essential part of a person’s overall well-being, and the stresses of the pandemic have made it more important than ever to ensure everyone in Minnesota can access quality care when they need it. This report is an encouraging step toward that goal.”

In May 2019, the Rural Health Advisory Committee formed a workgroup to assess mental health care in the rural parts of the state. The work group convened six times from 2019 to 2020 and hosted three regional listening sessions to learn from rural communities in different parts of the state. Those in Greater Minnesota often lack access to critical mental health services, due in part to an insufficient mental health workforce with a ratio of 1,518 people to each mental health provider in isolated rural areas as compared to 304 people per provider in metropolitan areas.

Wabasha County to invest $1 million American Rescue Plan funds on broadband

Post Bulletin reports

Wabasha County Administrator Michael Plante said the county board voted to commit $1 million of its $4.2 million American Rescue Plan money to expanding rural broadband access. While counties across the country still have questions on the federal guidelines for spending those funds – Plante said the county will hire a consultant to ensure it follows those guidelines to the letter once their hammered out – he envisions a grant program where internet providers can apply through a request for proposals, letting the county know what projects they prioritize in rural areas for their clients.

“Land-wise, a significant portion of the county is either unserved or underserved,” Plante said. “Primarily, we’re good in the cities. Population-wise, a substantial portion does have those internet capabilities. But businesses and families in the more rural areas need access to that.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, underserved areas are places with wireline broadband of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, but less than 100/20 Mbps. Unserved areas are places with no wireline broadband of at least 25/3 Mbps.

Not everyone pushed for broadband…

Not everyone was supportive of the plan to spent $1 million on rural broadband. Wabasha County Commissioner Brian Goihl said that between the lack of guidance from the federal government, the fact that the county has until Dec. 31, 2023, to put plans in place and another three years for project completion, and other pressing spending needs in the county, he’d prefer to spend the $1 million on other projects.