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DES MOINES — Iowa’s latest broadband map is its most detailed yet, but officials and broadband experts say Iowans should confirm the speeds reported at their homes and businesses to make sure the map is accurate.
The Iowa Office of the Chief Information Officer this month released the latest broadband coverage map, which aims to determine where high-speed internet is available in the state and where it's lacking.
Previous maps determined eligibility for funding using census blocks — small statistical areas usually encompassing a few hundred residents. But the new map identifies individual addresses and determines the availability of broadband to each home, business or other location.
For previous rounds of funding, a census block was considered served if one house in the region had access to broadband, which often left out people without access and didn’t allow state funding to go to projects in those areas.
“It's kind of like looking at a fuzzy picture, it's sharpening the focus on that picture,” Community Broadband Action Network co-founder Curtis Dean said. “And the benefit that will be for providers that are looking to potentially serve those areas is, it gives them a lot better definition of where service needs to be extended.”
The preliminary map divides locations between being “likely eligible” and “likely ineligible” for public funding. Addresses eligible for funding are reported as having access to internet speeds under 100 megabits download and 20 megabits upload, and not covered by previous state-funded projects.
But like other maps at both the state and national level, Dean and Dave Duncan, chief executive officer of the Iowa Communications Alliance, said the map is not perfect. The map currently is in a challenge process through Sept. 2, where residents and providers can present objections. Dean and Duncan said the process will be vital for making sure money goes to the right places.
The state used a combination of third-party data and internet providers self-reporting coverage areas to develop the map, Dean said. In previous maps, internet providers have sometimes over reported their speeds and areas in order to “protect their turf” and prevent public money from going to other providers, he said.
Experts and government officials alike said individuals have an important role to play in verifying the map’s authenticity. Because it is location based, Iowans can use the map online to find their address, and find out if the speeds reported there match what is available to them.
“If that is incorrect, then those consumers should notify the OCIO … and say, ‘Wait a minute, I can’t get this coverage, and therefore we should be eligible for funding so that I can get an upgrade,’” Duncan said.
When the map was announced, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Iowans should verify the information reported at their address.
“We are making important progress to connect all Iowans to high-speed broadband, but many communities remain unserved,” Reynolds said in a statement. “Today, I’m asking all Iowans to visit the broadband map and let us know if the broadband service reported at their location is inaccurate. This feedback will help us to direct resources to areas with the greatest need for broadband investment in the future.”
To see the detailed map, visit ocio.iowa.gov and select “publication of broadband availability map” near the top of the page. The map is searchable by address.
The new map comes as the federal government works to finalize the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, a $42.5 billion fund from the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law that will likely be distributed to states sometime next spring.
Since 2018, the state has awarded more than $380 million in grants to expand broadband into rural and underserved areas. The bulk of that funding has been in federal coronavirus relief funds from the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan. Reynolds and the Legislature also devoted nearly $100 million last year.
At least $100 million more will be coming sometime next year from the infrastructure law. The state could also make funding available from a number of channels, including budgeting money during the next legislative session, before then.
“I would anticipate there will be a round of state funding with funds sourced from the BEAD program, sometime next spring, early summer,” Dean said.