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Despite glitch, Iowa lawmakers optimistic about broadband expansion

Despite glitch, Iowa lawmakers optimistic about broadband expansion

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Discussion during the inaugural meeting of the Iowa House Information Technology Committee — formed to address technology issues in Iowa — was limited because the members at-tending virtually were stuck in a listen-only mode.

That included the ranking Democrat, Rep. Dave Williams, D-Cedar Falls.

“If I’d had the chance, I would have made a smart remark about the irony of the Technology Committee having a technology failure,” Williams said later Wednesday afternoon.

Despite the glitch, Chairman Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, was optimistic the committee can reach bipartisan consensus on what needs to be done to improve Iowans’ connectivity.

The coronavirus pandemic, Lohse said, has shed light on the limitations of internet infrastructure in Iowa, which is rated the 45th most connected state.

“It certainly exposed issues in education, in health, agriculture, business and government,” Lohse said.

His overarching goals include “expanding quality, high-speed internet connectivity for all Iowans” and making state government more efficient and cost-efficient.

“With a right approach, we can meet those goals or at least come damn close,” Lohse told the committee. “We all understand the issues, and we all want the same things.”

Williams agreed that Democrats have been supporting the broadband initiative for a long time.

“So without a doubt, there’ll be bipartisan support for helping these rural areas,” Williams said, comparing the build-out of broadband infrastructure to the rural electrification initiative in the 1930s.

One of the challenges Williams foresees is enacting legislation that serves Iowa today and in-to the future.

“Technology changes so fast so we’ve got to figure out how to be smart enough to make what we lay out here as future-proof as possible,” he said.

Lohse is encouraged by the aggressive agenda Gov. Kim Reynolds laid out in her Condition of the State speech Tuesday. She called for investing $450 million of state funds in broadband infrastructure over the next three years.

“About a third of our counties are still broadband deserts, where high-speed internet is rarely offered,” Reynolds said. “For many Iowans, it’s just not affordable. Iowa also has the second lowest broadband speeds in the country.”

That investment, Reynolds said, will leverage millions of dollars in private investment, “giving Iowa the biggest build-out of high-speed internet in the country.”

The effort will be aided by the Federal Communications Commission awarding $143 million to 11 Iowa broadband providers. The goal is to provide broadband at speeds of 100 megabits per second download, with nearly 85 percent of eligible locations receiving gigabit service.

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