116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Expanding broadband internet access in Iowa took a leap forward Wednesday when Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law creating a priority system and announced she and legislative leaders have agreed to pump $100 million into the effort to fund grants for broadband providers.
Broadband expansion — long a need in Iowa but one urgently highlighted in the pandemic with a switch to more virtual learning, working from home and online medical appointments — was a 2021 priority of the governor.
But Wednesday was a win some, lose some sort of day for Reynolds, who celebrated the broadband law while also conceding that work on another 202q priority of hers — increasing demand for corn-based ethanol by ratcheting up requirements for selling the E15 fuel blend at gas stations — will need to continue another year.
Reynolds said she and top legislative leaders have agreed to invest $100 million in new state funding for initiatives that seek to expand broadband internet access to underserved areas of Iowa. She made the announcement while signing into law legislation that provides the framework for broadband expansion programs.
“In the 21st century, when access to high speed internet is growing increasingly necessary for everyday life, from work to entertainment to health care, we needed to act. And I’m proud to tell Iowans we did just that,” Reynolds said at the Iowa Capitol. “Better health care, better public services, and better jobs are on their way to every corner of Iowa.”
Reynolds said Iowa’s average internet speed is the second-lowest in the country, and a third of the state’s 99 counties are considered to be in broadband “deserts” that have no high-speed providers.
On Wednesday, Reynolds signed into law House File 848. She said the bill sets up a tiered system where areas of the state with the slowest speeds will get priority, and service providers may apply to have the state pay for 75 percent of the cost of the project when it increases the upload and download speeds to 100 megabytes per second. The grant contribution from the state ratchets down to 35 percent in areas already equipped with an internet system but where improvements would speed up the service.
The legislation earned unanimous approval from lawmakers, and both Republican and Democratic legislators attended the bill-signing ceremony.
“It’s a great day for Iowans and I’m really proud that the bill passed unanimously,” Reynolds said. “It’s a great example of how we can come together on behalf of our state and on behalf of Iowans.”
Reynolds had wanted more — $150 million — for the grant program. But she said the state funding could be supplemented by federal COVID-19 relief aid, which is expected to include funding for broadband expansion.
Reynolds, however, signaled she has accepted the likelihood that her proposed E15 mandate will not pass the Iowa Legislature this session. Reynolds said she plans to keep advocating for the proposal after the session, and that she will continue discussing it with interested parties.
The proposal, House File 859 is supported by the ethanol and biodiesel industries, but opposed by gas station companies over concerns with expensive equipment upgrades and loss of consumer choice.
A legislative hearing on the proposal has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday.
“If it doesn’t (pass this year), you know, unfortunately, I don’t get everything I want. I try my hardest, but it’s just the reality of the legislative process,” Reynolds said. “Let’s see what we can do and maybe come back next year in a unified position that will create a better environment for us to make that happen.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.