Stirring the Pot: Deploying $35 million in broadband grants in Minnesota

As originally posted on the Blandin on Broadband blog

With the $35 million of broadband funding now signed into law, both communities and telecom providers are beginning the process of project development. Some have projects lined up, engineering completed, business cases prepared and partnerships in place. Others are just getting started in their project planning. I suspect that the Office of Broadband Development will have plenty of projects from which to choose. Deciding how to choose in advance of releasing program guidelines and application forms may be the OBD’s toughest job!

Here are some questions with which they might be grappling…

  • Should OBD funds be used to solve rural Minnesota’s broadband shortcomings for generations or should shorter term “something is better than nothing” projects be considered?
    • Should projects like the previously funded Alliance Communications – Rock County partnership that provide a ubiquitous, long – term broadband solution using OBD, county and provider funds, provide the standard project framework funded by DEED?
    • When is it appropriate to fund incremental projects that only edge out and make the hardest to serve areas even more difficult
  • What does “scalable to 100 Mb” really mean?
    • Is a CAF2 fiber to the node deployment with 8,000 foot local loops that defers the majority of FTTH deployment expense into an uncertain future, really “scalable?”
    • Should OBD require a claw-back enabled commitment from all grantees to actually deliver to the 100 Mb standard by 2026
  • What are the essential elements of a public – private partnership?
    • Does a simple support letter from a unit of government count as a partnership?
    • Is a project funded almost exclusively with a combination of federal CAF2, OBD grants and local government funds a partnership or a government giveaway?
    • What is the minimum percentage of equity or borrowing that should be required of private sector providers?
    • As the percentage of government funds increases in a project, what other benefits should the public sector receive
  • With the limited funds for projects in underserved rural communities, where should the focus be?
    • Facilitate and showcase a limited number of FTTH communities?
    • Fund targeted investment in open-access networks that serve anchor institutions, downtowns and business parks?

These are not easy questions. For my part, I would advocate that limited state dollars should be used to fund long-term solutions in projects that provide ubiquitous coverage using a fair balance of public and private funds. In underserved cities, the funded projects should create strong platform for economic development, innovation and an expanded network backbone.