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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — It’s not all she asked for, but the Iowa Legislature’s $100 million appropriation is a historic investment that will transform Iowa’s broadband infrastructure, “opening doors to new opportunities for communities large and small,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said Monday.
The governor signed House File 867, which includes broadband funding, one of the priorities Reynolds identified at the start of the legislative session in January.
A large share of the $100 million will be used for grants to improve or extend broadband connectivity in rural Iowa, but broadband “deserts” in urban areas likely will benefit from what’s being described as the “largest single, one-time expenditure on a project in Iowa history.”
“We expect that some of the areas that will receive funding are in very remote places,” said Dave Duncan, CEO of Iowa Communications Network. However, he expects grants will be made for projects “in some areas that haven't been eligible for funding before and currently have just good enough service or barely good enough or, if you ask the residents, not at all good enough service.”
The goal is to connect every Iowan this year with basic broadband that has download speeds of 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of 3 Mbps, Duncan said. Then, within three years, the goal is to connect almost every Iowan with “future-proof” broadband connections of 100 Mbps.
Reynolds called for $150 million a year for three years, so Duncan expects supporters of the broadband build-out to be back at the Legislature next year encouraging lawmakers to continue their investment.
“We’ll need to devote another significant amount of money next year to keep this thing going because we're not done yet,” Duncan said.
He anticipates there will be widespread interests in grants as internet providers respond to the demand for better service that skyrocketed over the past year as many Iowans were working and going to school from home.
Unfortunately, Duncan said, the build-out is being slowed by supply-chain disruptions that have hit many industries.
“There’s a worker shortage, there’s a supply shortage of chips, of fiber optics, and a lot of the devices and electronics that are needed to expand broadband,” he said.
There is no shortage of interest in building out the infrastructure, so Duncan expects the state to get more grant proposals than $100 million will cover. In the neediest broadband areas, the grants will cover 75 percent of the project. The private investment requirement increases in areas where service is better.
Federal funds also are available, although with more strings attached, Duncan said. Democrats, who wanted a larger state investment, say “Biden bucks” will help speed the build-out.
“We’re more grateful that President Biden has been working to leverage dollars so that we can actually get this done,” said Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights.
There have been five previous rounds of state broadband funding, and Iowa has received more than a half dozen rounds of FCC and USDA funding, as well as federal coronavirus relief money.
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