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.”

Rep Kiel lists broadband funding as a legislative win

The Crookston Times reports Representative Kiel’s view of the 2016 session. She wants Governor Dayton to get the legislators back to get to work at a Special Session but applauds the work that did get done during the Session…

Kiel said that despite the high-profile legislation that didn’t pass, the legislature did accomplish some things during the regular session.

And she has this to say about broadband…

She also cited $35 million in broadband investment across Minnesota, which includes a provision providing a stable cost for providers who need to access right-of-way controlled by the railroad. “Broadband needs to get where it needs to go,” Kiel said. “But it’s getting very expensive to be able to access the other side of the tracks.”