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.”