(The Center Square) – Communications service providers can begin applying July 1 for nearly $100 million in new state program funds intended to facilitate boosting broadband infrastructure in underserved areas of Iowa.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed HF848, a bill appropriating the funds, on April 28. The bill stipulates the availability of three matching percentage tiers to incentivize providers to build in the most underserved areas: a 75 percent match for Tier 1, where no provider offers at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speed; a 50 percent match for Tier 2, where no provider offers at least 50 Mbps download speed; and a 35 percent match for Tier 3, where no provider offers 80 Mbps download speed.
Applicants may seek up to 75 percent of total project costs for the installation of at least 100/100 broadband speed within Tier 1 Targeted Service Areas, 50 percent of those costs for installing at least that speed within Tier 2 areas, 35 percent of those costs for installing at least that speed within Tier 3 areas, or 50% of those costs for the installation of 100/20 within Tier 1 areas. The project can entail either buildout speed of at least 100/100 broadband speed or at least 100/20 Broadband or faster, but not both, according to the notice of funding availability.
Under the bill, the Office of the Chief Information Officer receives $2.5 million to pay expenses related to the administration and operation of the grant program and the fiberoptic network conduit installation program. The office will release an updated map on Thursday to indicate which areas of the state are eligible for funding.
“Iowa’s community-based broadband providers … see this $97.5 million program as a catalyst to connect even more Iowans – those who are the hardest and most expensive to serve.… We hope the new map accurately identifies ‘unserved’ areas and also filters out exaggerated coverage or speed claims by some providers, so that those Iowans without good service will in fact be eligible for broadband upgrades under this funding round,” Iowa Communications Alliance CEO Dave Duncan told The Center Square in an emailed statement June 30.
Duncan emailed The Center Square data on April 5 that showed the national peak usage requirement for a household of four people in 2020 was 85 Mbps download and 48 Mbps upload. In Iowa, the average available speed in 2020 was 78.9 Mbps while the 2021 projected need is 131/73, he said.
“If the pandemic taught us anything it is that broadband access is the new electricity,” Iowa Chief Information Officer Annette Dunn told The Center Square. “Living without broadband at home, work, or school is no longer an option for Iowans.”
Applications are due by 5 p.m. Central Time on July 28, and the agency anticipates making final decisions by Sept. 3, although all dates are subject to change, according to the notice. Grant agreement negotiations and executions are scheduled for Sept. 17.
Projects must be completed by April 30, 2025, Office of the Chief Information Officer Public Information Officer/Legislative Liaison Gloria Van Rees told The Center Square.
Reynolds included the expansion and increased funding for the grant program among her legislative priorities in her 2021 Condition of the State Address.