Mike Franken calls for broadband funding, immigration reform to help rural Iowa

By: - October 13, 2022 1:30 pm

U.S. Senate candidate Mike Franken, a Democrat, speaks during a candidate forum at the Greater Des Moines Partnership on Oct. 13, 2022. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

U.S. Senate candidate Mike Franken wants to use his international experiences to help Iowa’s communities and economy, he told the Greater Des Moines Partnership Thursday.

The Democrat challenging longtime U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a retired Navy admiral, said his decades of military service and consulting work will help him better serve Iowans if elected in November. Iowa has a history of leading the nation on issues from desegregating education to inventive sustainability agriculture practices, he told business owners and Partnership members at the event.

“We’ve fallen off that a little bit,” Franken said. “And we’ve got so much to offer the world, and the world needs our help. And I’m happy to be a part of that cadre to make that happen.”

As a self-described futurist, he said wants to use his experiences to return Iowa to the front of the pack on social and technological advancements. Franken said that starts with addressing current problems in Iowa like declining population and workforce shortages.

Getting more people into Iowa requires forward-thinking investments, he said, which may not seem immediately relevant. He shared a story of his time in the military when officials debated whether to fund research and expansion of GPS technology, which has evolved from a military technology to a common-place tool in many people’s daily lives.

“It made all these rural communities much more livable,” he said, because it made it easier for neighbors to keep in touch.

Franken said if elected, he wants to focus on other technologies that will help make rural Iowa more accessible and livable. Expanding rural broadband is part of that focus, he said. When asked about getting companies like Amazon and Netflix to help fund rural broadband expansion, he said these companies are “stalling,” because they believe there will be satellite systems that replace wired broadband connections.

The pandemic has accelerated work to develop internet infrastructure in rural areas, he said, and pointed to the 2021 infrastructure bill, which will send millions to Iowa and other states. But now, it’s about finding the balance between funding existing infrastructure while remaining open for advancements, he said.

“You need to welcome the new technology moving forward,” Franken said.

Better internet connections in rural Iowa is also part of getting people to move into the state, Franken said – or to not leave it. He called for immigration reform and updates to transportation infrastructure as other issues which would help draw people to Iowa, bringing down costs of living and bringing more workers to the state. He pointed to Iowa’s existing investments in sustainable energy production, and said he wants to see Iowa have the cheapest electrical grid in the country.

Iowa currently exports more college graduates than surrounding states, Franken said, and more must be done to attract and retain Iowa residents.

“We must be more of an attractive place where that 22-year-old, that 28-year-old, that 65-year-old at least considers staying,” he said. “I think quality of life is a big, big factor.”

Grassley is scheduled to speak to the Partnership Nov. 2.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.