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Iowa House Passes Broadband Expansion Bill; Funding Still Unclear

John Pemble
IPR file
The Iowa House of Representatives passed a bill unanimously Monday that aims to expand high-speed internet access.

The Iowa House of Representatives passed a bill unanimously Monday that aims to expand high-speed internet access throughout the state, but lawmakers have yet to announce an agreement on how much money they will allocate for this purpose.

The bill establishes matching grants for companies that develop broadband infrastructure in areas that don’t have access to high-speed internet.

Most of the grants would go toward providing internet service with download and upload speeds of at least 100 megabits per second. Some grants could go to companies that establish lower upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second if they’re in the most difficult to reach areas.

Rep. Ray Sorensen, R-Greenfield, said this will help connect all Iowans, including those in broadband deserts.

“We want to be able to conduct our Zoom meetings, connect to our doctors and nurses via telehealth, increase the connectivity of our tractors and combines for precision ag—or entertainment-wise to stream our favorite shows and movies, and unwind with a little Call of Duty or Madden on our PlayStation or Xbox—all while in our small towns or even out in our remote, rural farms,” Sorensen said.

Rep. Dave Williams, D-Cedar Falls, said expanding broadband is “an economic no-brainer.”

“I’m so glad to see us progressing at this rate for the entire state,” Williams said. “I think it’s a huge boon.”

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds announced in January that broadband expansion would be one of her top priorities this legislative session. She asked lawmakers to allocate $150 million in each of the next three fiscal years for these broadband grants.

Statehouse leaders have yet to announce a funding agreement.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said on Iowa Press last week that House Republicans may propose “around $100 million” for broadband in next year’s budget.

Senate Republicans did not include broadband funding in the budget targets they announced last week.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said that doesn’t mean the Senate GOP won’t agree to allocating money for broadband.

“We just wanted to keep broadband as a separate conversation that we’ll continue to work with the House and work with the governor to make a significant investment in broadband,” Whitver said.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter