The MN Spokesman Recorder talks to Senator Smith about federal funds for broadband

The MN Spokesman Recorder asked Senator Smith about the new infrastructure bill…

How does this bill differ from Build Back Better plan?

The Infrastructure Bill is gonna be a big deal for our state… It includes historic investments in transportation and in broadband, including in transit.

What that means for Minnesota is billions of dollars that will come to help us improve and repair our road system. And it’ll mean dollars for, I’m sure now, transit, which is so important for getting people out to their work, into their jobs, and getting around their community, and much-needed investment.

And I might just highlight the stuff, the work that we’ll be doing in broadband, to expand broadband, including helping to make broadband more affordable. There is a special program called the Digital Equity Act, which will end digital redlining, which is a real problem for poorer communities, marginalized communities when we find that the big cable companies just don’t serve them at the same level as they serve other communities.

More details on how funding will help…

When it comes to broadband, people think a lot about how there are real gaps in connectivity for people living in rural communities. But I know from my many conversations that there are many, many folks that live in the central cities who can’t afford the broadband connection because it’s too expensive, or because they lack access to tablets for example or laptop computers.

How will broadband money get distributed…

When it comes to broadband, we actually have a good program in Minnesota to distribute broadband dollars in partnership with local for-profit providers. I would expect that in Minnesota, it’ll be up to the governor. But I would expect that the governor would use his border-to-border broadband program to distribute those dollars because it’s a way of accessing help that communities are already used to.

Rep Stauber votes against infrastructure bill that includes money for broadband

Duluth News Tribune posts a letter from a reader concerned about Rep Stauber’s vote on the infrastructure bill…

Minnesota 8th Congressional District Rep. Pete Stauber voted against the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed into law on Nov. 15 (“Stauber: ‘Massive spending … not about real infrastructure’,” Nov. 14).

This act allocates funds to Minnesota to make high-speed internet more accessible and affordable across the state, to repair and rebuild Minnesota roads and bridges, to improve Minnesota airports, and to help keep our drinking water safe. These projects would create well-paying jobs, improve quality of life, elevate employment and educational opportunities, and enhance Minnesotans’ ability to participate in the economy. The 8th District stands to benefit from this act, but our representative voted against it despite his claims of supporting basic infrastructure funding and bipartisanship.

EVENT Dec 13: New Federal Investments in Digital Equity: What Skills Advocates Need to Know

It’s a quick but helpful webinar federal funding for digital equity…

New Federal Investments in Digital Equity: What Skills Advocates Need to Know

Monday, December 13, 2021

4:00-4:30 Eastern Time
Over the past 18 months, National Skills Coalition members have worked hard to educate policymakers on the need to invest in digital skills. Our Digital Equity @ Work campaign has highlighted the importance of holistic digital inclusion investments that help workers not only access the broadband and devices they need, but also to pursue high-quality upskilling and reskilling opportunities.

Now it’s time to celebrate an important victory: The infrastructure bill passed by Congress in November 2021 includes historic, first-of-its-kind funding for digital inclusion, and it’s in part thanks to the advocacy of our network! States will be receiving $2.75 billion in funding under the Digital Equity Act. In this quick 30-minute webinar, you’ll learn about the implications of this new legislation for your state, find out what more needs to be done to achieve digital equity for all workers, and get your top questions answered. You’ll also get a sneak peek at the next chapter of the federal digital equity conversation — coming at the February 2022 Skills Summit. Register now!

President Biden visits MN and encourages investment in infrastructure that will make us a leader

MN Public Radio reports

In his first trip to the state as president Biden said U.S. infrastructure used to be the best in the world, but that it’s been slipping. He said the $1.2 trillion measure will change that.

“We’re going to help America win the competition for the 21st Century,” Biden said. “We’re getting back in the game.”

You can see his speech (I’ve started it where he spokes most about broadband) below…

President Biden seemed to observe a few things – first that now is a time to focus on regaining leadership by investing this unprecedented investment. We need to build back better. We can’t just build what to the specs we have, we need to improve because modern times require and will continue require increased broadband speeds. He notes that we used to be top ranked in global infrastructure; we are now 13. We need to turn it around and that means aim high and act.

MN Broadband Task Force asks Governor Walz to expedite and increase request for federal funds for broadband

The MN Broadband Task Force sent a letter to Governor Walz, Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman, Senator Erin Murphy, and Representative Debra Kiel…

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act funding that Minnesota is slated to receive, there is a Sec. 604
Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund that is intended to be used “to carry out critical capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options, in response to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).” The U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury), which is charged with administering this fund, notes on its website that a
purpose of this funding is to “contribute to the Administration’s goal of providing every American with
the modern infrastructure necessary to access critical services, including a high-quality and affordable
broadband internet connection.”
In August 2021, Treasury identified the amount of Sec. 604 funding that would be allocated to each state; Minnesota’s allocation is $180,702,620. In September 2021, Treasury issued guidance as to how the Capital Projects Fund dollars may be used and broadband infrastructure projects were identified as a presumptively eligible use.
In the 2021 Minnesota legislative session, language was passed to fund the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant program with $70 million over the biennium and with that funding coming from the Capital Projects Fund. This decision was made prior to either information being released regarding Minnesota’s total allocation or guidance on allowed uses.
Minnesota is required to apply for this funding by December 27, 2021 and once its application is
approved and an agreement signed with Treasury, the state must submit a Grant Plan and a Program Plan(s) outlining how it intends to use the state’s allocation of $180,702,620. The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband would urge the state to submit its application as soon as possible and once an agreement is in place, file a Grant Plan and Program Plan to use all the funding for the state’s Border-to-Border
Broadband Infrastructure grant program. With prompt approval by Treasury, the Office of Broadband
Development could then open a grant window and approve projects in time to be built, or at least started, during the 2022 construction season. As you are aware, Minnesota’s construction season is shortened due to weather and it is imperative to get the ball rolling as soon as possible.
The guidance issued by Treasury indicates that any home or business in Minnesota that does not have a reliable, wireline broadband service of at least 100Mbps download and 20Mbps upload is eligible for this funding. The latest data available shows that there are at least 240,000 households in Minnesota without a broadband connection meeting those speeds. Assuming an average cost of $5,527 per location to deliver a broadband service (taken from the Task Force’s 2020 annual report), deploying service to those 240,000 households would require funding of over $1.3 billion. Even assuming the grant portion for that funding is capped at 50 percent as it is under current state law for the Border-to-Border Broadband grant program, funding of $663 million would still be necessary.
While Minnesota has been a leader amongst the states with its Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure grant program having awarded $126.2 million to reach approximately 57,000 locations with broadband service between 2014 and 2020, the state is falling behind. In March 2021, Wisconsin awarded over $24.8 million for 58 projects, in October 2021 Wisconsin awarded $100 million to 83 projects and in early November announced that the next grant window to award another $100 million will open December 1, 2021. In October 2021, Iowa announced that it would make available another $200 million for broadband grants in addition to the $100 million in grants announced in September 2021 as part of its Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program. A few other examples include Missouri announcing it will use at least $400 million for broadband infrastructure; Ohio is using $250
million to improve high speed internet service; Texas Governor Abbott just signed a bill allocating $500
million for broadband infrastructure; and Virginia has plans to use $700 million to provide universal
broadband by 2024.
The pandemic has made clear the need for fast, reliable broadband service to all homes and businesses in the state. Federal funding is available to get that infrastructure deployed. Broadband is the foundational element that is a force multiplier for all other issues. We need it to better address critical challenges and build economic opportunity, competitiveness, and prosperity. The state has in place a
nationally recognized broadband office and grant program. All that is needed is for the Governor and
the Legislature to direct the available federal funding to the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure grant program so that the real work of building out the infrastructure to meet the state’s broadband
goals can be achieved. The time is now to invest in our communities.
Thank you for your prompt consideration of this request.
Sincerely,
Teddy Bekele
Chair, Governor’s Broadband Task Force

Heavy lobbying anticipated as agencies figure out infrastructure bill

The Hill reports…

The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill is enshrined into law, but the lobbying over its implementation is just getting started.

Specifics on broadband…

Meanwhile, internet service providers (ISPs) are expected to aggressively lobby the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) as it crafts new internet rules under the infrastructure bill’s $65 billion broadband expansion plan.

The relatively tiny agency has six months to develop a proposal that will require recipients of federal broadband funding to provide a low-cost broadband option and encourage states to explore alternatives to dominant ISPs such as coops, nonprofits and municipalities.

The NTIA will have the final say as to what kinds of speeds and prices providers must offer. An aggressive broadband plan could hurt the bottom line of ISPs that have long operated in underserved communities without any competition.

“The language in the legislation offers a baseline of requirements that need to be met, and it provides some flexibility to the agencies to interpret just how far they can go,” said Greg Guice, director of government affairs at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit that advocates for increased access to affordable high-speed internet.

“Competition, affordability, speed, reliability, resiliency — with all of those things there is some flexibility, and ISPs would like to keep them at a minimum level,” he added.

States will play a key major role in implementing the broadband rules. That’s another lobbying avenue for ISPs, which successfully pushed more than a dozen states to adopt rules limiting or blocking municipal broadband networks.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), meanwhile, is tasked with creating regulations requiring ISPs to disclose their network performance, data collection and other key factors to customers. The FCC must also craft rules that prevent ISPs from discriminating on customers based on the a region’s income or demographic characteristics.