Office of Broadband Development urges MN to play role in Digital Equity Plan

The Office of Broadband Development is reaching out to folks to join the effort to get better broadband…

Lack of affordable internet access, lack of an internet-enabled device, and limited digital skills aren’t just an inconvenience. They hold people back from educational and employment opportunities, civic engagement, timely and affordable health care, and staying connected with friends and family. 

Some communities and individuals may be more likely to lack digital access and may have a greater need for digital skills training, including older Minnesotans, people who live in rural communities, Black Minnesotans, Indigenous people, people of color, and others. Digital access and skills are needed to engage with school and education, find employment, access health care resources and more. That’s why efforts to achieve digital equity are so important.  

DEED’s Office of Broadband Development (OBD) is developing a digital equity plan to create improvements in internet affordability, access to internet-enabled devices, and ways to provide digital skills training. We want to hear from Minnesotans most impacted by the digital access and skills gap to ensure our digital equity plan reflects the goals and needs of all Minnesotans. This plan will help us determine how to spend federal funding coming in 2024 aimed at increasing digital access and skills. 

Cities, counties, schools, libraries, faith communities, businesses, internet providers, nonprofits, and other organizations are encouraged to form Digital Connection Committees and partner with us to share these critical insights. We’re hoping these committees can gather information about local digital inclusion strengths, needs, and goals, and then share summaries with OBD. Information can be gathered however it works best for a community or organization. It could be a conversation circle, a survey, an asset inventory of existing digital inclusion resources – or some other way. The workload is flexible, and we look forward to working with Digital Connection Committees to bring creative ideas to life. 

Committees are especially encouraged to include members who are: 

  • 60 or older 
  • Currently or formerly incarcerated 
  • Current or former members of the U.S. military 
  • Black, Indigenous, and People of Color 
  • People with disabilities 
  • Low-income households 
  • Learning to speak or read English 
  • Living in rural communities. 

To help support the work of Digital Connection Committees, OBD will provide resources, templates, and general guidance. OBD is also offering optional, non-competitive mini-grants to eligible Digital Connection Committees. To receive a mini-grant, committees can apply by filling out a short application by March 3, 2023.  

In addition, Digital Connection Committees need to complete this form to register with our office by March 15, 2023, and complete their work by June 30 of this year. 

Find more details on DEED’s OBD website

Follow up from Internet for All: Connecting One Minnesota from Bree Maki

Last week, the Office of Broadband Development hosted Internet for All: Connecting One Minnesota. Today, with permission, I’m sharing the follow up note attendees received from Bree Maki, Executive Director of the Office of Broadband Development…

Greetings,Thank you so much for joining us on January 25, 2023 for the Internet for All: Connecting One Minnesota event.  We hope that you found the day worth your time and enjoyed meeting new partners and connecting with old friends.  Minnesota has a long history of working together to achieve broadband access and we look forward to continuing this work with our Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) and Digital Equity plans.  We are so thankful for all of our co-hosts – National Telecommunications & Information Administration, Association of Minnesota Counties, League of Minnesota Cities, and the Minnesota Association of Townships.  This event could not have been as robust without the talented, knowledgeable, and willing panelists, speakers, moderators, and staff that worked so hard to make it a success.

Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Plan

While we don’t anticipate knowing how much BEAD funding the state will receive until June 30th, we are working to develop the required Five Year Action Plan which is due July 12, 2023. The Five Year Plan will address Minnesota’s goals and objectives and inform the subsequent Initial and Final Proposals for BEAD funding. While many of the requirements for the BEAD Plan will be based on Minnesota’s existing statutory goals, established Border to Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant program, and priority uses outlined in the NTIA Notice of Funding Opportunity, we will be engaging with our partners to help inform and guide our work and fill in any areas where we have the discretion to enhance efforts regarding infrastructure deployment. With that in mind, if you would like to meet and discuss ideas for how we can improve the Border to Border grant program or the work of our office, or if there are barriers that need to be addressed to ensure programmatic success, please reach out to us at to schedule a meeting.

Digital Equity Plan

This winter and spring, we are excited to begin crafting Minnesota’s Digital Equity Plan. The DE Plan—which is different from the BEAD 5-Year plan, even as they will overlap—will address barriers people experience when trying to afford internet service, acquire an internet-enabled device, and develop digital skills. To ensure the plan is truly Minnesota’s plan, we encourage local participation in Digital Connection Committees (briefly and previously dubbed “digital inclusion planning teams”).  A wide variety of entities—including political subdivisions, non-profits, anchor institutions, faith-based organizations, MN-based businesses, and more—can form Digital Connection Committees. Committees receive planning updates from OBD while gathering information about local digital inclusion strengths and needs for inclusion in the DE Plan. Committees’ participation is voluntary; the workload is flexible based on Committee capacity. To support Digital Connection Committees, OBD will provide resources, templates, and general guidance. OBD is also offering non-competitive mini-grants to eligible Committees. A brief application is required, due March 3 at 3:00 p.m. Central. For more information or to register a Committee, please see the attached handout, visit OBD’s digital inclusion webpage, or contact Hannah Buckland, Digital Equity Program Lead, at

Again, thank you for your support and interest in assisting the Office of Broadband Development in this important work.

MN Broadband Task Force Meeting Jan 2023 – general updates

Today the MN Broadband Task Force met to get general updates from Office of Broadband Development and Legislature. There is clearly a concern that there are not strong advocates at the legislature despite the $276 million set in Governor’s budget. Hearing about the federal funding, it is clear that it will not come quickly but there are opportunities for local communities to get involved. For example, Region 9 is looking at hosting a broadband conference for their community.

Next meetings are Feb 22 and March 27.

Here are details.

10:00 a.m. – 10:05 a.m. – Welcome, Task Force Introductions, and Approval of Minutes from December 19 and December 22 meetings

10:05 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. – Legislative Update by Deven Bowdry, DEED

  • Governor recommendation is $138Million per year for the biennium
  • Bree and/or Teddy have presented to various Legislative committees
  • No broadband bills yet
  • Lots of new bill makers (Ecklund is gone; broadband in new committee) – so people have questions about mobile vs fiber and what speeds mean

Q: Will there be a day of the hill?
There was a one for the providers – but not others.
MN Broadband Coalition is not in a position to do a day on the hill; apparently we had a bill due but we’re trying to move forward. We need to convene a meeting. We’d like to at least have a lobby day.

10:10 a.m. – 10:40 a.m. How Can the Task Force Advocate for Broadband Funding at the Legislature? – Nathan Zacharias, Technology Policy Analyst, Association of Minnesota Counties

Tips for lobbying

  • Have a factsheet (map of availability with quick facts, available federal funds, speed goals, suggested funding level)
  • Get testimony and/or write letters
  • Work with committee chairs when you can – also vice chairs and minority leads

Q: Can we look for better than 50 percent match? Can we figure out how much of property tax is going into Border to Border funds already?
Some folks don’t have enough of a tax base to match grants.

10:40 a.m. – 10:50 a.m.  – Office of Broadband Development Update by Bree Maki, Executive Director

  • Border conference 242 people in person and 193 online (registered)
  • We heard from past three Task Force chairs
  • We will be doing a survey to see if folks want another conference knowing that we’re missing another conference planner

10:50 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Line Extension Program Update by Bree Maki

  • $15 million
  • People can apply online or via paper to report their unserved address
  • 856 applicants so far (in 3 months) – 53 are businesses
  • Trying to connect with providers
  • We think we have funds for about 600 line extensions

Q: Any consideration of accelerating the process?
Not with all of the other things are happening. For example some addresses may be served from recent grant recipients.

Q: Le Sueur is the project partner for this project. We have a lot of fiber in the ground but it’s middle mile. How can we as a county engage with the process? DO we need to rely on vendors? Can we get the addresses?
People have to register themselves. Getting the word out there is most important. We can’t share personal address info.

Q: Is the map available on the website?

Q: Is there any thought to recommend to legislature to improve on the $5 million cap and 50 percent match?
The low density pilot project is still being tested. We reach capacity even with 50 percent match so we’re hard to push on that. There is an interest in going to a $10 million cap and it sounds like folks are talking about it. There are a lot of unknowns.
An Analysis of last year’s applications to see how much of state funding was property taxes.
Association of Townships is working on this.

11:00 a.m. – 11:10 a.m. Border-to-Border Grant Program Update by Diane Wells, Deputy Director, Office of Broadband Development

  • Awarded $100M to 62 projects in December 2022 – leverage was $152M
  • Opened the latest round of grants ($42M in ARPA and $25M State), pre-applications were due Jan 19 – applications due March 2 – hope to announce awards by late Spring
  • 25-30 projects are still open
  • BEAD funding – working with $5M planning grant. Five year plan due July 2023. Each state will receive at least $100M. Goals: 1: reach unserved, reach unserved, get Gig to anchor institutes. Some indication that we might get $650M total (so another extra $550M; we should know mid-June.)
  • First 20 percent of funding might not be released until mid-2024. There will be 4-years for implementation.

Q: ON the maps … just heard there were one million locations added to maps? Has Connected Nation been able to see anomalies? I know of locations that are misrepresented.
Availability of service is best known by person at that location. So we asked folks to report anomalies. The FCC used a fabric developed by Costquest – one option we have is to use them to try to sync with them or we have decided to work with local source to build a map. That will help us challenge. Some providers have reported to the FCC using different methods. Without the fabric in place first, we’re at a disadvantage. We didn’t do a bulk challenges of addresses but it looks like those who did were rejected.

Q: In Le Sueur we made a push to improved maps – but we’re having trouble even getting surveys done online because the broadband is poor.
The OBD staff is all remote and many rural – they are acutely aware of issues. We hope to get more engaged to document in five year plan.

11:10 a.m. – 11:20 a.m.                Break

11:20 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Digital Equity Update – Hannah Buckland, Digital Equity Program Lead, Office of Broadband Development

  • Digital Equity Act – not BEAD – Due Nov 30, 2023 – then we send in a noncompete application.
  • There are 15 aspects we need to address in the capacity grant application.
  • There are opportunities for communities to get involved and for communities to get funding to get involved.

11:30 a.m. – 11:50 a.m. Input from Governor’s Task Force Members

Q: What can we do to push the issue at the legislature?
We could be at the legislature. Talk to legislators.

11:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.  Public Comment, Other Business, Future Speakers for February 22 and March 27, 2023 Meetings, Wrap-up

Update and/or another look at Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)

I feel like I just can’t read about IIJA and all the federal broadband funding enough. Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has a nice update on the Digital Equity Act, which in a piece of IIJA. Here are the highlights; you can check out the site for greater detail…

The Digital Equity Act provides $2.75 billion to establish three grant programs at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The programs focus on increasing broadband adoption and ensuring that all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy. The three programs are:

  • State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program: A $60 million formula grant program for states, territories and Tribal governments to develop digital equity plans.
  • State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program: A $1.44 billion formula grant program for states, territories, and Tribal governments. It will fund an annual grant program for five years in support of digital equity projects and the implementation of digital equity plans.
  • Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program: A $1.25 billion grant program. It will fund annual grant programs for five years to implement digital equity projects.

Over the past year, the NTIA has focused on the planning grant program, encouraging states, territories and Tribal governments to develop digital equity plans in tandem with universal broadband access plans required for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program.

NTIA Publishes FAQs for its New Grant Programs

From the NTIA…

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently published Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, the Digital Equity Act Programs, and the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program. These documents offer a deeper dive into some of the most common questions we received from prospective applicants about program deadlines, eligibility, funding uses, application submission requirements, and more.

Individual FAQ documents:

The program FAQ documents will be updated periodically during the open application windows. If you have any questions throughout the application process, we encourage you to email the appropriate NTIA inbox below: