Brainerd Dispatch doubles down on Duluth view that broadband is a basic today as plumbing and electricity

Brainerd Dispatch quotes from a recent Duluth New Tribune Editorial to make the case that ubiquitous broadband is more important than ever during the coronavirus pandemic and we need legislators to fund better broadband in rural areas…

As the News Tribune has opined, this pandemic is forcing all of us to focus on basics. And if it wasn’t clear before, it is now: Reliable internet is as basic today as indoor plumbing and electricity were a century ago. So, St. Louis County, RAMS, the Minnesota Legislature and other governmental entities can be held accountable for rising above politics and for following through on bolstering broadband.

 

Minnesota Rural Counties say fund broadband

The Austin Daily Herald posts an editorial from Minnesota Rural Counties’ Dan Larson about the need for better broadband in rural Minnesota. InForum posts a similar letter from Paul Gerde, a Pope County commissioner and chairman of Minnesota Rural Counties …

But that system only works if you have access, and without any clear pandemic end in sight, hundreds of thousands of primarily rural Minnesotans are stuck in digital darkness while the gigabyte world streams by.

We all feel the isolation brought about by social distancing and sheltering in place orders, but those orders hit people harder who are cut-off from work, school and loved ones due to lack of adequate broadband access. With the rural economy already lagging, this is not good news.

Our member counties are on the front-line of the public health, public safety and economic security battle to get a grip on this unprecedented outbreak, and we stand in unified support of the shelter in place directives from the state and federal government. But those directives turned a spotlight on the farms, businesses and homesteads, primarily in rural areas, being left-behind through no fault of their own due to lack of access to high-speed broadband.

He asks the Minnesota Legislature to fund better broadband…

There is a $30 million bipartisan broadband bill waiting for passage at the Legislature, and $50 million in unfunded projects sitting on the sidelines that could work as a much-needed kick-start for the rural economy.

Without taking anything away from the need to mitigate the immediate health and economic impacts of COVID-19, while also recognizing nearly one-in-five rural residents are being asked to shelter in place until further notice with virtually no access to adequate internet service, we urge Governor Walz and state legislative leaders to consider broadband funding as a priority this session and sustain that funding until state speed goals are met.

Frustration in Orr with Middle Mile access not coming to the door

The Timberjay reports…

We see the headlines all the time. A new broadband initiative, funded by the state or the feds, is investing more taxpayer dollars to lay fiber optic cable to small towns out across rural America. We’ve certainly seen our share of fiber optic cable buried across northeastern Minnesota in recent years— indeed, well over $100 million has been invested in bringing fiber to area communities in just the last few years.

And, still, most residents of our region continue to suffer with the same poor-quality Internet access they’ve had for years.

They look specifically at Orr, Minnesota, where middle mile fiber has been installed but residents are not able to access it. The Timberjay asks how this is possible..

Here’s how: There’s a fundamental disconnect between the promises we hear with each new broadband investment, and the service that actually gets delivered to the end users, whether they’re residential or business customers. The publicly-funded projects that we hear about are enhancing the capacity of what’s known as “the middle mile.” Essentially, these projects provide a solid infrastructure with the “potential” to bring advanced broadband capacity to our communities, but they stop short of actually connecting with the businesses and homes they’re supposed to serve. The final mile of these projects is supposed to be completed by the private sector, companies like Frontier and CenturyLink, who are ostensibly partners on these projects.

These fiber installations are massive public subsidies that we provide to these telecommunications companies, with the supposed understanding that they will then provide a matching private contribution to enhance their switching capacities and upgrade their connections to the end users.

But as we’ve seen, these companies simply aren’t interested in making such investments in our communities. Which means we lay a lot of fiber in the ground that, essentially, serves no purpose.

We see this all the time when government interfaces with the private sector. Unfortunately, the politicians are more than happy to throw money at the problem du jour, but there’s little to no follow-up to make sure that the promises made at the press conference, when the money is approved, are converted to promises delivered six months or a year down the road.

Rep Layman optimistic for the legislative session and interested in broadband

The Citizen Tribune reports that Representative Sandy Layman is optimistic …

The 2018 Minnesota Legislature opens at noon Tuesday, Feb. 20, and Rep. Sandy Layman (R-Cohasset) is optimistic that work between now and session end on May 21 will be off to a good start building off what she believes were big wins last year.

And thinking about broadband…

Personally, Layman wants to put together a bipartisan coalition to leverage more broadband dollars.

“Legislative leaders are hopeful for a budget surplus, but we won’t know with certainty until the forecast comes out later this month. If there is a surplus, broadband expansion in Greater Minnesota is near the top of my list.”

Although the Legislature passed a large bonding bill last year, Layman says 2018 could also be a bonding year. A number of projects from Deer River to Cohasset to Grand Rapids are looking for bonding support.

“I anticipate a good deal of discussion about the size and scope of such a bill,” she added.

Layman expects to be spending most of her weekdays in St. Paul until adjournment in May. For constituents to stay informed of what the Legislature is working on, Layman suggests signing up for weekly session updates at http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/5b.

Minnesota Rural Legislative Interests – transportation, bonding, child care & broadband

The Voice of Alexandria (KXRA) recently published an article on the rural take on the legislature…

Last year, the Republican-led Legislature, buoyed by GOP gains in rural areas in the 2016 election, passed some favorable legislation for Greater Minnesota, such as a bonding bill that will pay for public works projects and an increase in funding for the Local Government Aid program. This year, lawmakers will meet for just three months – Feb. 20 to May 21 – with a projected $188 million deficit (based on a November economic forecast) serving as a backdrop.

That hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for legislation that could help the rural economy – at least for organizations that represent rural interests.

They spoke to a few associations and organizations representing rural interests. Growth & Justice listed broadband as a priority…

Meanwhile, a think tank that’s been focused on issues related to the rural economy, Growth & Justice, hopes to build on a list of a dozen priorities it released during last year’s session. Besides a bonding package and child care needs, among other issues, the organization would like to see more broadband expansion and investment in a program that helps to equip workers with enhanced skills for technical jobs.

“We’ve got to be able to hold all of these issues up at the same time and understand how they all interrelate,” said Growth & Justice President Jane Leonard, who joined the organization in January.

And the article notes broadband as a topic to watch…

Broadband expansion: High-speed broadband has expanded into many remote regions, with 87 percent of Minnesotans now having access to high-speed internet, according to state estimates. But the work to connect everyone continues. Last year, the Legislature set aside $20 million for the Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which provides grants to providers for the infrastructure they need to expand their reach. This year, the Greater Minnesota Partnership would like to see at least $50 million for the Border to Border program, with at least half of the money made available to areas that lack access to 2026 state speed goals — 100 megabits down, 20 megabits up.  The current federal standard is 25 megabits down, 3 megabits up.

Senator Miller says broadband is important to rural areas – but needs to see budget for 2018

The Post Bulletin outlined broadband grants awarded in Southeast Minnesota. They also got reaction to the grant program from Senator Jeremy Miller…

One of the big questions looking ahead is whether lawmakers will invest more in the state’s Border-to-Border fund during next year’s legislative session. The Legislature approved $20 million for broadband funding this year. The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband has recommended $100 million be invested over two years. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton called for a $66 million investment last session.

Demand for the grants is outpacing funding. The state received a total of 70 applications seeking $50 million during the most recent grant cycle.

Deputy Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, authored the jobs budget bill that included the $20 million for broadband funding. He said he is a strong supporter of the state’s Border-to-Border broadband program. However, he said lawmakers first need to see the updated budget forecasts to see if there will be extra money available to invest in broadband. Those forecasts project whether the state will have a budget surplus or budget deficit in the coming year.

Miller added, It’s important for folks in rural areas to have high-speed internet access. Times are changing and internet access is more important than ever. So think it’s critically important that we are investing in getting folks that access.”

Matt Schmit asks for a concerted effort to create a One Minnesota push

Former Senator, Matt Schmit asks Minnesota to look to history with the Greater Minnesota Corporation in 1987 and Blandin Foundation in 2003 (to present) for lessons on how to invest in rural area to invest in Minnesota’s future. His editorial was recently posted in MinnPost.

Here’s a brief excerpt…

Whether serving the urban core or rural reaches, through state agency, philanthropy, or public-private partnership, a critical component of the 1987 approach involved the idea of statewide “One Minnesota” capacity building – for local communities, organizations, and collaborations to better understand problems, pursue solutions, and make meaningful change.

As a modern example of model capacity building, consider the decade-plus investment the Blandin Foundation has made through its Broadband Communities Program. Since 2003, over 70 communities and 110 organizations have benefited from focused work establishing local technology goals, measuring broadband access and use, and leveraging technical assistance and resources to drive progress.

Without this planning, preparation, and investment in local capacity, Minnesota’s nation-leading Border-to-Border Broadband competitive grant fund – which was established in 2014 and has since extended the reach of high-speed internet access to approximately 30,000 hard-to-reach homes and businesses – never could have inspired the 150-plus applications the program received through its first three competitive rounds or the high quality of its nearly 75 funded proposals.

And her reminds us to look forward…

While Minnesota faces pronounced but nonetheless familiar geographic differences in culture, politics, and socioeconomic conditions – as well as mounting challenges in access and affordability for such essentials as health care, college and career advancement, broadband utilization, child care and early learning, and workforce and affordable housing — we all have a part to play in promoting constructive dialogue and actionable solutions.

As we embark upon a critical year ahead, in which candidates for governor and Legislature will share their respective ideas for guiding Minnesota’s future, here’s hoping history will inspire a redoubled effort toward investment in a vision for One Minnesota built to succeed for the next 30 years – and beyond.

First Congressional District candidate Vicki Jensen promotes better broadband

The New Ulm Journal reports that First Congressional District candidate Vicki Jensen talked up the need for better broadband on a recent visit to New Ulm and surrounding area…

Jensen also spoke on the need for rural economic development, which includes infrastructure improvements like broadband.

“Broadband is the best economic tool we can have for our rural economy,” she said. “We did it with electric and we can do it with broadband. We just need the will to do it.”

Mankato Free Press asks legislators to invest in rural broadband

Mankato Free Press recently ran an editorial…

If broadband access is the fuel that can power rural and outstate economic development, Minnesota is in need of a fill up.

For the last two budget cycles, Gov. Mark Dayton and Democrats have pushed to add from $60 million to $100 million to the state’s broadband grant program, and the Legislature has grudgingly provided $20 million. In the last round of funding, the funding requests were double the total amount of funding available.

Clearly, outstate Minnesota still needs broadband infrastructure. Some 22 percent of rural households in Minnesota, about 202,000, don’t have access to typical broadband, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

They highlight need in their area…

In the Mankato region, broadband coverage is worst in Martin and Sibley counties, with about 45 percent of households without broadband coverage. Some 30 to 40 percent of households in Watonwan and Waseca County have no access to typical broadband. Even in more populous Blue Earth and Nicollet counties about 20 to 25 percent of households are without broadband

I’ve heard rumors that Legislators are growing weary of the topic of broadband, looks like constituents aren’t…

The Republican Party campaigned in the last election how outstate Minnesota was left behind and the Twin Cities was somehow the recipient of the state’s largesse. But the GOP Legislature had a chance to put its funding where its campaign rhetoric was and came up short on broadband.

As the demand for the dollars shows, we need to do more. We urge the Legislature, and Republican leaders in the House and Senate, to up their commitment to outstate Minnesota and expand broadband program funding

Duluth News Tribune supports State broadband investment

The Duluth News Tribune Editorial Board took on broadband yesterday – they are for it and for continued State investment in broadband…

Northland lawmakers last week announced a bill calling for another $100 million in spending for rural broadband projects statewide. Gov. Mark Dayton, in his state budget, released last week, proposed $60 million over two years for rural broadband.

While both proposals may prove a bit ambitious, the Legislature can continue to chip away this session at the worthwhile funding goal, following $20 million approved in 2014, $10 million in 2015, and $35 million allocated last year

Lawmakers can maintain the momentum because, “This technology is the present and the future, and Minnesota cannot fall further behind in critical infrastructure provisions,” as Sen. Erik Simonson of Duluth said in a commentary in the News Tribune in 2015.

In a statement last week, Simonson, the chief author of the Senate broadband bill this session, said, “For every dollar invested in broadband in the state, $10 is generated in economic activity. That kind of return on investment just makes sense.”

They are looking for rural-urban equity…

Despite the chipping away already at the $900 million total funding goal, about 22 percent of homes in rural Minnesota still lack internet connections at basic speeds, Simonson and Sandstede reported last week.

Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm knows all about it: “My district is largely unserved by high-speed broadband,” Tomassoni said, according to KDAL-AM. “Broadband is a necessary tool for residents in our region. I am always supportive of programs that foster economic development in greater Minnesota. And investment in broadband is one of the best tools.”

Minnesotans deserve online access whether they live in urban or rural areas. However, while 97 percent of Twin Cities-urban Anoka County has high-speed internet access, only 44 percent of northern-rural Cook County does, as U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar pointed out in a commentary in the News Tribune last January.

Nobles County wants better broadband – they currently rank 35 in MN

The Daily Globe recently wrote about Nobles County’s plans for better broadband. First they recognize their situation…

Nobles County was ranked 35th out of the state’s 87 counties in internet service, with 59.3 percent of its households having a broadband internet connection, according to a study done by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

They recognize that State support helps…

Rock County received $5 million in grant funds to expand internet services to unserved and underserved areas in 2014 under Gov. Mark Dayton’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program. Jackson County received federal funds from the 2009 stimulus, which covered much of the county’s populated areas with internet fiber.

For Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Abraham Algadi, getting rural areas of Nobles County served is a top priority in his mission to stir economic development in the region.

They recognize the potential for return on investment…

Not only does Algadi want to have all of the county served, he wants internet speeds to increase. A 2011 study from Ericsson, Arthur D. Little and Chalmers University of Technology found that doubling the broadband speed for an economy increases GDP by 0.3 percent. This would equate to a $5.4 billion increase to the U.S. GDP.

And the politics of broadband is raised too…

District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, who represents Worthington and much of Nobles County in St. Paul, was in Worthington Wednesday for a meet-and-greet event. He said he often complained his internet connection at home in Mountain Lake was not good enough — a common problem for Minnesotans in rural areas.

“It’s not just Nobles County, it’s Greater Minnesota that needs to have access,” Hamilton said. “We need to make sure we have that connectivity.”

Dayton proposed that the state spend $100 million on expanding broadband in its bonding bill during the last legislative session. Republicans disagreed, cutting that number down to $35 million, citing that there was too much spending in the bill to begin with.

District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, who represents Worthington and much of Nobles County in St. Paul, was in Worthington Wednesday for a meet-and-greet event. He said he often complained his internet connection at home in Mountain Lake was not good enough — a common problem for Minnesotans in rural areas.

“It’s not just Nobles County, it’s Greater Minnesota that needs to have access,” Hamilton said. “We need to make sure we have that connectivity.”

Dayton proposed that the state spend $100 million on expanding broadband in its bonding bill during the last legislative session. Republicans disagreed, cutting that number down to $35 million, citing that there was too much spending in the bill to begin with.

Rep Sanders questions MN VoIP Legislation – did it go far enough?

According to a letter to the editor in MinnPost, Representative Tim Sanders says…

Minnesota had a real opportunity to bring our telecommunications regulatory structure into the 21st century this session by joining 34 other states in saying no to state-specific regulation of voice-over-Internet protocol services (“VoIP”) and other IP-enabled services. I was proud to author the original legislation (HF 776) and join with Sen. Dan Sparks (SF 895) in a bipartisan effort to help spur more telecom investment in the state.

This VoIP-IP legislation, which had bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, made its way into the final deliberations of the Supplemental Budget Bill that included $35 million for the state’s broadband fund. Unfortunately, however, because of Gov. Mark Dayton’s adamant and unfounded opposition, those provisions were removed from the Supplemental Budget Bill on the last day of the recently concluded legislative session. It’s ironic that while the Dayton administration continues to call for more funding for the state broadband fund, it takes a “ regulate first” approach to the kinds of services that foster more broadband deployment and bring innovation to industry and consumers alike. It is the exact same VoIP service that the governor, my colleagues in the Legislature, and other members of the state government currently enjoy in their own offices.

I’m impressed that a pretty wonky optic has spurred some discussion in the comments. Here are a few counterpoints (that relate to the issue)…

VoIP is a land line in the sense that as an internet service it would use either existing cable or phone lines. However, somebody still has to build and maintain those lines and infrastructure which is why the public utility model worked so well for establishing traditional phone service in the first place. So yeah, if everyone is using Comcast or Centurylink lines but not enough people are paying Centurylink or Comcast to use those lines eventually the infrastructure eventually degrades.

Most if not all of the State Government offices actually switched to VoIP a few years ago. While it has worked well by and large there have been some notable outages and glitches that simply didn’t happen with traditional land lines.

And…

But if you grew up during a time when ‘dial tone’ was the most reliable technology in the world, and note how much less reliable internet service is today, then you might find continued regulation of VOIP services to be just the thing you want to ensure that industry is held to a high standard for a technology that is likely going to eventually be relied upon for emergency services (via VOIP 911 calls), and provides much greater opportunity for the harvesting of personal information than Plain Old Telephone Services (POTS) ever did.

And…

The AARP is rightly against bills like this, and against eliminating land lines that do such lovely things like provide fantastic sound and automatically tell the 911 operator where you’re making your call from (down to the apartment number!). There are significant ways in which the internet is more complicated, more unstable, more expensive, has more built-in obsolescence and fewer helpful services than traditional phones.

Brainerd Dispatch editorial laments lost opportunity for legislative leadership in broadband

A letter to the editor from my colleague Bill Coleman in the Brainerd Dispatch calls out level of legislative support for broadband…

As a rural broadband advocate and consultant, I read Rep. Kresha’s June 2 letter with interest.

I agree that he is one of the House GOP’s leading voices on broadband, but that voice is weak and out of tune with the needs of greater Minnesota. …

With a $900 million state surplus, $100 million in broadband funding would have been historic. A shared commitment to long-term broadband funding by state leadership would have been historic—$35 million is merely a small step forward towards a well-connected Minnesota.

He also outlines some of the specifics of new legislation beyond funding…

Kresha is also correct that $35 million dollars was close to what the House proposed, but omits that this is far below what the Senate approved ($85 million) and the governor requested ($100 million). Curiously, metro area DFLers were the strongest proponents of rural broadband in the House.

The House also won new “challenge” procedures that protect the very incumbent providers that have failed to deliver rural broadband. These providers can now claim, after seeing all of the grant applications, “plans” to deliver slow broadband. This new challenge process might disqualify competitive providers’ grant applications even if they were deploying 100 percent fiber optic, future-proof networks. The uncertainty of the challenge process will inhibit the number of quality applications.

Community Broadband Networks digs deep into State Broadband Budget

Last week, Community Broadband Networks posted on article that dissected the impact of the $35 million broadband budget from the perspective of the community.

The funding is a step in the right direction, but not a very big step…

First, the funding fizzle. In its first two years, the state awarded about $30 million to 31 Border-to-Border projects. But that has been a miniscule appropriation compared with the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband’s estimate that Minnesota’s unmet broadband need is $900 million to $3.2 billion.

And the Legislature’s $35 million funding for the broadband grant program for the upcoming fiscal year seems particularly paltry given that the state has a projected $900 million budget surplus. 

One issue is the impact of towns and cities – economic centers – based on the focused on unserved…

Second, the ongoing language challenges with the Border-to-Border Program. “With 85 percent of people living in cities not eligible for [Broadband Development Grant] funding, it’s hard to get people excited [about the program],” Dorman told us. The Partnership; a 90 member group of economic development authorities, foundations, cities, nonprofits, businesses, and Chambers of Commerce; maintains the broadband program’s rules and criteria inadvertently harm the very cities that conceived the program. …

Because the grant program has focused heavily on unserved areas, it has largely ignored the majority of cities that are “underserved,” those that have some Internet service, albeit poor, Dorman said.

Another issue is the incumbent challenge process…

On the downside, the Partnership was disappointed in a provision in the broadband law pertaining to a “challenge process” that allows a telecom company to stop a project from receiving a grant if that company currently provides or even promises to provide service at the low state speed goals, Dorman said. This legislative language is a slight reform of the previous “right of first refusal” language, which had been included in the House broadband bill.

“This [challenge language] provision in the bill could make it difficult, if not impossible, for projects seeking to upgrade existing broadband service to receive a grant,” Dorman said. “We will have to see how this all plays out.”

Dorman sees the “challenge process” language as a tool protecting telecom companies “that don’t want to invest” in their Internet networks.

Finally speeds are lagging…

In another area, GMNP leaders also believe the state’s connectivity speeds goals are not aggressive enough. Under the law, the state’s goal is that “no later than 2022,” all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to minimum speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up and the minimum service goals in 2026 should be 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up.

“To say 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps is an acceptable standard is ridiculous,” Dorman told us. “This is equivalent of 1990s dial up service.  We need to step this up.”