House passes version of governor’s broadband proposal

By: - March 29, 2021 5:48 pm

The federal government needs to add harsher penalties for cyber crimes, an FBI agent said. (Photo by Denny Müller via Unsplash)

An amended version of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ broadband access proposal passed the House Monday afternoon by a unanimous vote.

House File 848 would provide grants to extend broadband service into underserved parts of the state.

“I think we can achieve our goal of connecting Iowans, especially those stranded out in the broadband deserts… with broadband speeds aimed at not only catching Iowa up, but creating an economic growth driver for our great state,” Rep. Ray Sorensen, R-Creston, said. 

Under the bill, internet providers could apply for Empower Iowa grants on a sliding scale. Projects to bring broadband into the most underserved areas of the state could receive up to 75% of the cost in state grants. Other initiatives in better-served areas would see smaller grants.

Lawmakers tempered some of the grant requirements from Reynolds’ initial proposal. In a House subcommittee meeting, wireless providers said offering 100 megabits per second upload speed would be too difficult in rural areas. House File 848 specifies that, in certain areas, broadband providers can apply for state grant money if they offer 100 megabits per second download speed and 20 megabits per second upload speed.

“When the bill came from the governor, we agree, we want world class speed,” Speaker of the House Pat Grassley said Friday on “Iowa Press,” an Iowa PBS show. “However, we also want to make sure that those areas where there’s one house every four miles, does it make sense for those local providers or the state to be investing the top dollar amount to just do that?”

The bill does not include an appropriation for the program, as lawmakers in mid-March said the funding would depend on the state revenues and federal COVID-19 aid. Reynolds proposed $450 million for the broadband expansion – $150 million each year for three years – and Sorenson said he expected to match her. 

Grassley, R-New Hartford, estimated Friday that the general fund allocation for broadband would be closer to $100 million.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.