Reynolds signs broadband expansion, says she’s ‘thrilled’ with lawmakers’ commitment of $100 million

Gov. Kim Reynolds signs legislation April 28, 2021, in the State Capitol rotunda. The bill creates a state grant program to expand high-speed broadband access. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa’s status as the state with the second-lowest internet speeds will soon get an upgrade, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday before signing a bill expected to provide hundreds of millions of dollars for broadband expansion across the state.

“With my signature today, the state of Iowa’s broadband infrastructure is about to reverse quickly and dramatically. Better health care, better public services, and better jobs are on their way to every corner of Iowa,” Reynolds said during a bill-signing ceremony in the State Capitol rotunda.

Reynolds said she’s “thrilled” lawmakers have agreed to provide the first-year appropriation of $100 million for grants to companies that provide high-speed broadband service to underserved areas of the state. Reynolds, who proposed the program in January, had asked for $150 million a year for three years, for a total of $450 million.

Lawmakers are still completing work on the state budget. The House has passed legislation including $100 million for broadband; the Senate has not yet approved the bill.

Reynolds told reporters the state will be able to supplement its investment with federal money available through U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Federal Communications Commission, federal coronavirus relief dollars and potentially the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan.

House File 848 received unanimous approval from the Iowa House and Senate. Under the new law, 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.

The bill specifies that eligible projects will provide 100 megabits per second upload and download speeds. “For perspective, the least connected cities in Iowa don’t even have an average internet speed of 10 megabits per second,” Reynolds said.

But in certain areas, broadband providers can apply for a 50% state grant if they offer 100 megabits per second download speed and 20 megabits per second upload speed.

Reynolds said one-third of Iowa counties are currently considered internet deserts. Faster internet speeds also are critical for the economy, health care, public safety and education, she said.

“It’s difficult to overstate how transformative this legislation will be for the state. If the pandemic has made anything clear, it’s that things like telework telehealth are not going to go away anytime soon. With high-speed internet, Iowans will be able to compete effectively for the ever-expanding pool of remote work opportunities and rural areas can attract professionals who might otherwise have relocated to different communities or different states,” she said.

Kathie Obradovich
Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.