We have learned a lot about our limits, our weaknesses, and our resolve this year. One of the weaknesses we experienced was our access to broadband services. Over the last year, many people have seen their work, school, shopping and other things move online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ready or not the increased use of broadband internet is here to stay.
Many Iowans, especially in rural areas, still do not have access to broadband internet. We have worked on a number of ways over the last year to close the gap of Iowans without access to broadband internet. These proposals included: reducing regulations, encouraging economic development, increasing funding, and through smarter spending.
To reduce the regulatory burden, we looked to strengthen Iowa’s “dig once” policy. A “dig once” policy requires the inclusion of broadband conduit (pipes which can be used to easily run fiber-optic communications cable) in the right of way during a road construction project.
There are various certifications that communities can seek to increase broadband and new people to their communities. Everyone likes certainty, this includes businesses looking to grow and expand. Communities will be able to receive the broadband forward designation by meeting criteria set by the IEDA.
“Broadband Forward”: Receiving this certification means communities are focused on developing broadband infrastructure and internet access.
“Telecommuter Forward”: This designation would encourage political subdivisions to support and promote the availability of telecommuting. The city must meet requirements set by the IEDA to receive the designation.
At the end of October, Governor Reynolds announced a new round of grants to expand broadband access. The $5 million dollars in additional broadband grants is the latest in a series of Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grants to give more Iowans access to critical broadband infrastructure.
According to the Governor’s office, the first Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grants were made in 2018. To date, more than 61,000 homes, schools, and businesses are slated to get access to broadband service in rural Iowa. With matching funds from the Empower Rural Iowa and CARES funded grants, the total infrastructure investment in Iowa comes to more than $121 million dollars and is growing with this latest round of broadband grants.
Last session, I championed a language to increase funding to broadband grants. This bill subtracted amount of grant provided to a communications service provider from income. Entities were selected for government grants to buildout broadband, but then that grant money was taxable income. The government was deploying money to execute a task, but then taxing them to do it. We changed that.
This is not the end of the story. There is still much work to do. And I look forward to continuing to tackle this issue in upcoming legislative session.