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.”

Rep Kresha proud to lead charge to increase broadband funding in the MN House

Representative Kresha has a letter to the editor in the Brainerd Dispatch about his role in the broadband fund at the Minnesota Legislature…

One of the most rewarding parts of working at the Capitol is seeing ideas turn into law to help residents in our state. Since I was sworn-in, I’ve tried to provide high-speed broadband internet access for our rural areas. With the passage and signature of our supplemental budget bill, $35 million will flow to increasing broadband access. Couple this with the $10.5 million last year and this biennium invests a record $45 million for rural broadband.

I’m proud to lead the charge in the House for increased funding. It’s an issue with bipartisan support, and something that affects numerous Minnesotans. In a time when lawmakers are accused of playing party politics, it’s reassuring to see agreement on both sides of this issue.

Kresha has been very active in supporting broadband – from visiting with rural communities to discuss the issue, talking to the Minnesota Broadband Task Force at the Capital and at an industry meeting this spring he connected increased funding to telecom reform (a bill that also passed this year). This year, the House’s proposal for broadband funding has consistently been lower than proposals by either the Senate ($85 M or Governor Dayton ($100 M).

Senator Schmit view on $35 million for broadband: clear win

The Kenyon Leader posts an editorial from Senator Schmit celebrating the $35 million for broadband…

Among its highlights, our supplemental budget bill adds $35 million to Minnesota’s incredibly successful broadband grant fund, which in its first two years has extended critical Internet connectivity to roughly 10,000 homes, over 1,000 businesses, and hundreds of community anchor institutions – such as libraries, schools, and hospitals.

The legislative session, like the baseball season, can be long and arduous, with its share of hot streaks and slumps. The past four years have been nothing short of transformative for Minnesota and our shared priorities. We’ve made tremendous gains in key areas, and we’re poised for success in those that remain.

Local elected official get push back from constituent for lack of broadband support

It will be interesting to see where constituents land on supporting politicians based on the investment they are making in broadband. (The Legislature agreed to $35 million; the Governor recommended $100 million.) Here’s how one constituent felt based on his letter to the editorial in the Faribault Daily News

Daniels walked out on supporting broadband funding for rural Minnesota. After stingily agreeing to only a $10.6 million state-wide investment in 2015 (when the governor’s Task Force on Broadband estimates a $200 million need), Daniels was recently quoted in these pages saying, “I would just hate to see spending too much on broadband at one time if we don’t have enough dollars….”

Bluff County Newspaper: Broadband becomes an economic priority

It’s interesting to see the reaction to the $35 million in the surplus budget for broadband. Here’s what the Bluff County Newspaper says…

However, this is an issue the state, and even federal government, must be involved in since the networks extend over wide geographic areas and, like rural electrification a century ago, is too costly for the sparsely populated areas to handle on their own.

The Minnesota Legislature just before adjourning midnight Sunday allocated $35 million in extra grants for broadband development, which was short of the $100 million request from Gov. Mark Dayton. Still, it got through the hectic session this year, which is more than can be said about a traditional infrastructure program — transportation.

A decade ago, these issues weren’t even under consideration as part of the economic development puzzle. Today, providing access to daycare and improving broadband are finding universal consensus that they are more than just an individual concern.

The article also details a lot of focus effort but it’s the last line that I think is so wise.