DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate passed legislation Tuesday intended to help businesses that provide communications services to expand access to reliable and affordable high-speed broadband to underserved and unserved parts of Iowa.
“This bill is an attempt to expand broadband service to where it is inadequate, especially in rural Iowa,” said Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Ottumwa, before the 48-0 vote to approve Senate File 2400. “It alters and modifies the download speeds and increases the grants.”
The Senate bill increases the maximum grant amount from 15 percent to 35 percent for communication service provider project costs that meet a minimum download speed of 100 Mbps per second and a minimum upload speed of 20 Mbps per second, and changes the definitions for underserved areas and what constitutes meaningful service, she said.
Grants of up to 15 percent would be available for projects offering broadband at lower download and upload speeds.
The latest information from BroadbandNow, an organization that collects and analyzes internet provider coverage and availability, ranks Iowa as the 32nd most-connected state in the nation, at a time when elected officials and industry leaders are focused on spurring development to keep residents and jobs in rural towns.
According the website, BroadbandNow indicates that 18 percent of the state’s population is underserved — meaning it has access to less than two wired service providers, and there were 302,000 Iowans who didn’t have access to a wired connection capable of 25 Mbps download speeds.
Calling high-speed broadband “critical infrastructure” for rural areas, Gov. Kim Reynolds — in her Condition of the State address and her fiscal 2021 state budget plan — sought $15 million on top of the $5 million provided under last year’s Empower Rural Iowa Act. The money would go toward improving connectivity and adjusting the state match to leverage private and federal funding and build out broadband to every part of Iowa to become the most-connected state in the nation.
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“I think this bill will go a long ways toward providing better internet service to our rural communities,” Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, said during Tuesday’s Senate floor debate. “If we really want to keep our kids in our rural communities, we’ve got to provide better internet services.”
Miller-Meeks said Senate File 4200 hits close to home for her, telling her Senate colleagues, “My property is at the city-county line in Ottumwa, and our internet service is sketchy, to say the least, and my children constantly complain that they would spend more time at home if they had better internet access.”
The bill goes to the House, where representatives last week passed a small batch of bills about broadband service in the state. The bills clarify that state grants to local telecommunications companies for broadband projects are not considered income; extend the state law that set up statewide rules for how cities and counties may regulate where cell towers are placed; have the Iowa Department of Transportation publicize road construction projects that dig into ground where private companies could install fiber-optic cables; and set up a legislative study of exchange points that route traffic on the internet.
Rights of crime victims
In other action Tuesday, senators voted 48-0 to seek a constitutional amendment establishing that the rights of crime victims shall not be infringed.
Sen. Zach Whiting, R-Spirit Lake, said Senate Joint Resolution 2005 does not create rights for crime survivors. It protects their rights beyond state laws that are “sound” but not necessarily perfect.
Backers say the amendment is appropriate as the Legislature considers a separate proposal for a constitutional amendment that automatically would grant felons the right to vote when they are paroled.
To come before voters, a constitutional amendment first must pass both the House and the Senate in exactly the same form and then be approved by the newly elected General Assembly seated next January.
Government efficiency review
Also Tuesday, senators voted 30-18 along party lines to approve Senate File 2392, legislation that would establish a state government efficiency review committee. It would examine the functions of all state agencies over a five-year period ending in 2026, with about 20 percent being examined each year.
The bill would take effect upon enactment if passed by the Iowa House and signed by the governor.
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