The new law encourages electric cooperatives to use existing easements for the deployment of broadband infrastructure in underserved areas of the state.
The 2021 omnibus commerce bill (First Special Session Chapter 4. Article 7, Section 2) includes language that now allows an electric cooperative, an affiliate of the cooperative, or another entity pursuant to an agreement, to utilize current or future easements for electric distribution to be used for the deployment of broadband infrastructure.
What the change in the law means
Prior to the change in law, electric cooperatives could only use their easements for purposes related to providing electric service. The change now allows electric cooperatives and their affiliates to use those same easements and any subsequently acquired easements to provide broadband service without needing to obtain new easements. The authority includes the ability for electric cooperatives to lease fiber capacity that utilizes the electric cooperative’s easements. The change in law is intended to assist with the deployment of broadband infrastructure to the hard-to-reach areas of the state, which could assist certain unserved and underserved areas in cities that are served by an electric cooperative interested in providing broadband service.
The provision provides notice requirements for electric cooperatives seeking to exercise this new authority to any impacted property owners and allows any impacted property owners to commence action seeking to recovery damages for the expanded use of the easement.
How the new law affects cities
While encouraging the use of existing easements for broadband infrastructure, the law also protects the ability of cities to require permits and review when infrastructure is placed in city rights of way. Any placement of broadband infrastructure in the public right-of-way is subject to local government permitting and right-of-way management authority under Minnesota Statutes, section 237.163. It also includes requirements for the electric cooperative to notify a local government prior to placing broadband infrastructure in an easement that is in or adjacent to the public right of way, and to minimize potential future relocations.