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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Iowa has been awarded the first batch of cash for the federal infrastructure law’s major broadband expansion program, receiving $5.7 million to plan internet expansion and equity.
The money, announced last week, includes the first round of the Broadband Equity, Access and Development program, a $42.5 billion provision of the bipartisan federal infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden in 2021 to expand access to high-speed internet nationwide.
The money comes in two separate grants, $5 million in planning funds for broadband expansion and around $700,000 for digital equity, coming from the Digital Equity Act.
The grants are being fielded by the Office of the Chief Information Officer, the Iowa agency that handles broadband expansion.
The $5 million in planning funds will be used to develop a 5-year action plan to expand high-speed internet in the state, office spokesperson Gloria Van Rees said.
The money will allow the office to expand its ability to administer grants for broadband expansion in the coming year, said Curtis Dean, vice president of the Community Broadband Action Network.
The second grant will go toward developing a digital equity plan “to ensure that all communities can access and use affordable, reliable high-speed internet,” Van Rees said.
The funds can be used “to help the state develop the programs it needs to push adoption, so that instead of 90 percent of Iowans having internet and knowing what to do with it, we can move that number up, so we get more people taking advantage of the digital economy,” Dean said.
It will be a while before the state sees the full allocation from the program, and the total amount has not been announced yet.
Fed vs. state maps
The allocation will be based on a map the Federal Communications Commission released last week that shows where broadband access is available nationwide, but Dean said the map overestimates Iowa’s availability.
Each state will receive at minimum $100 million. A September report from ACA Connects, a telecommunications organization, before the FCC map was released, estimated Iowa would receive $383 million from the program.
The FCC map, which drills down to specific addresses and shows availability at each location, is similar to a map of Iowa the Office of the Chief Information Officer developed earlier this year.
Dean said Iowa’s map is more accurate. The more unserved areas the FCC map shows in a state, the more money the state will receive.
The FCC defines locations as “unserved” if they do not receive at least 25 megabits download and 3 megabits upload speed, and “underserved” if they do not receive at least 100 megabits download and 20 megabits upload.
“There’s a lot more unserved areas on the state map than there are on the FCC’s map,” Dean said. “It behooves the state of Iowa to show the clearest and most realistic picture of what those unserved areas are so we can get more of that $42.5 billion.”
Van Rees said Chief Information Officer staffers are reviewing the FCC map to see if there are inaccuracies the state can challenge.
As the FCC works through the challenge process, the money from the federal infrastructure law likely won’t be heading to states until the end of next year, Dean said.
The funds would follow previous high-profile broadband programs the state has pushed, using both state and federal funds.
Since 2020, the Office of the Chief Information Officer has devoted more than $350 million in several rounds of grants to internet providers to build into underserved areas.