A watchdog group, Stimulating Broadband (SB), which keeps tabs on stimulus spending on broadband infrastructure, says Minnesota is the only state holding back details about how the state plans to spend its broadband stimulus money. Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration says it doesn’t have to disclose the information. It’s the second time in two months that Pawlenty has come under criticism over broadband policy. Minnesota submitted a list of funding priorities to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) detailing how the state plans to spend stimulus money to expand broadband coverage statewide. But Pawlenty’s office won’t reveal which projects – which it selected from a master list of applications received from counties, townships, cities, businesses and nonprofits across Minnesota – it’s recommending for funding.
The governor is invoking a state statute that says applications about nonpublic businesses are private until funding decisions are made. As the Minnesota Progressive Project noted on Tuesday, many of those applications have been made public, including one of the state’s largest counties, Ramsey County.
Diane Wells of the Telecommunications Division of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, told SB:
“Minnesota has undertaken its [Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program] evaluation process following guidelines the state has for reviewing RFPs. Under that process, the results of our evaluation would not be made publicly available until the completion of the full process, which for purposes of the BTOP broadband grants, we have defined as when the NTIA issues the awards. Thus the recommendation from Minnesota to the NTIA is not a public document at this time.”
The second time SB asked for Minnesota’s prioritized list, it received a response from a government attorney. In an email, Alberto Quintela, Jr., wrote, “The Minnesota Department of Commerce has been informed by the Minnesota Department of Administration that, pursuant to Minn. Stat. 13.591, subd.4 (2008), documents generated in response to the NTIA’s communication to the states on the opportunity to comment on grant proposals submitted under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) are protected nonpublic data until completion of the federal evaluation process and the awards are made.”
When asked for comment on the case, Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt of the Ghatt Law Group told SB in an email that it is strange for Minnesota to be so secretive – especially since every other state SB has approached has supplied the information.
“At the outset, the state of Minnesota has to realize that others have elected to release their rankings. Given that it was never a secret and was quite ‘public’ that NTIA sought the rankings from all of the states in the first place, it is unclear why the ultimate rankings would be considered ‘non public.'”
“It is also unclear whether Minnesota can keep the letter hidden for long,” Ghatt wrote. “At top, the decision to treat the NTIA response as non-public fuels a growing debate over whether States preferred public and government projects over private ones. It would appear that Minnesota could be shielding its rankings from the same type of criticisms other states are facing.”
That criticism comes as Minnesota selected a telecom-backed group to conduct the state’s broadband mapping, which could, in turn, benefit the telecom industry. That decision was made without the input of the state’s citizen broadband task force, whose members were appointed by Pawlenty.