Governor’s $450M broadband expansion bill headed to House floor

Gov. Kim Reynolds' $450 million plan to expand broadband service statewide is headed to the House floor. (Photo by Denny Müller via Unsplash)

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ $450 million plan to expand broadband across the state over the next three years cleared the House Appropriations Committee on a unanimous vote Thursday. 

House File 796 now heads to the House floor for debate.

The bill would set up state matching money for broadband projects.

Democratic Rep. Chris Hall of Sioux City, the ranking member, asked where the money would come from, as the bill does not include an appropriation. 

“Rather than just talking about the technology, and the interest we have in expanding broadband, let’s talk about the dollars, too,” Hall said. 

Bill manager Rep. Ray Sorenson, R-Greenfield, said the financial details depend both on the results of Friday’s update on state revenues and the final amount Iowa is allocated from latest federal pandemic relief bill, expected to be $1.3 billion. The Revenue Estimating Conference, which sets official state revenue estimates, meets Friday.

“We are with the governor. We want to spend that much,” Sorenson said of the projected $450 million in state matching grants. “If we’re going to do this, we need to do it and do it right.”

The bill retains Reynolds’ insistence of minimum speeds of 100 megabits per second for both uploads and downloads to qualify for full matching grants. However, 20% of matching grant money would be offered to companies adding broadband in “difficult to serve” areas at slower speeds, with reduced matching grants on a sliding scale, Sorenson said.

Representatives of some broadband companies have estimated it will cost $800 million to $850 million to install high-speed service across Iowa, including private investments.

Iowa’s major business organizations have listed statewide high-speed internet access as one of their top priorities, as did the governor’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Those groups said the service is important to attracting and keeping businesses and workers, a point made more clear when so many have worked at home during the pandemic.

Perry Beeman
Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.