Ensuring a common set of regulatory rules, regardless of whether telecommunications provider is an ILEC or CLEC, is the aim of proposed legislation (HF1066/SF736) that recently passed from committee to the respective floors of the Minnesota House and Senate. In the above interview, Kristi Westbrock reflects on a recent article she wrote that explains that this legislation is not deregulation and does not remove existing consumer protections. It is simply meant to ensure that competitive and incumbent provider are regulated the same.
Westbrock, who is Chief Operating Officer for Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) in Brainerd, MN, is well-versed in this topic, as CTC is both an incumbent provider, in its traditional cooperative service areas, and a competitive exchange provider in areas that were previously underserved or unserved. Outside its traditional serving areas, CTC has been working with multiple entities, such as electric cooperatives and municipalities, to bring broadband to unserved or underserved rural areas.
With that experience as a foundation, Westbrock discusses her recent testimony before the Minnesota House Greater MN Economic and Workforce Development Committee regarding the Border-to-Border grant program. The intent of this program is to ensure that broadband is brought to all the unserved or underserved areas in Minnesota. It is clear that there is demand for this program, as there were applications for over 44 projects in 2015 with 15 of those projects sharing a total of $10.59M in grants (which applicants must provide at least 50% matching funding).
With Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton proposing $100M in grants for 2016, the proposed distribution of that money has become somewhat controversial. A coalition of city, county and education groups are advocating for a higher speed threshold for what qualifies as unserved (25 down/3 up) and underserved (100 down/20 up). This expanded definition would effectively open up the grants beyond the 244,000 locations identified as currently underserved or unserved, which, as Westbrock alludes to, would potentially end up diluting the funding and delaying the time it takes to bring broadband border-to-border.