Among the many lessons learned from the challenges of 2020, one of the most critical is that access to reliable high-speed internet is not a luxury; it is just as vital to Iowa communities as running water and electricity. Iowa’s technology infrastructure begins with a robust broadband network, and its speed and reliability are essential to every aspect of the state’s future.
The pandemic accentuated Iowa’s lag in broadband access and speed, especially in rural areas. While the state has made progress in building out broadband infrastructure over the last several years, much more must be done.
Today, about one third of Iowa’s counties are still broadband deserts, where high-speed internet is rarely offered and only 18.5% of Iowans have access to affordable internet plans, well below the national average of 50.1%.
Broadband connections are defined as having download speeds of at least 25 megabits (Mbps) and minimum upload speeds of 3 Mbps. About 35% of Iowa households lack this “25/3” benchmark for broadband speed.
Iowa ranks 45th in the nation in broadband access and the second-slowest internet speed nationwide, with an average download speed of 78.9 megabits per second (Mbps), according to BroadbandNow.com.
While reasons for access vary, a national study suggests a link between the lack of broadband connectivity and high poverty rates.
It is critical that broadband access is available to all Iowans, and that funding be targeted for a future-ready, future-proof network that supports distance learning, telehealth and telework applications.
A longtime advocate for expanding Iowa’s broadband network, Governor Reynolds is proposing a bold initiative that will finally ensure broadband access to all Iowans in every part of our state by 2025. If approved, the plan will move Iowa from one of the lowest ranking states for broadband access and speed to among the best, and benefit every aspect of how we live, learn, work and conduct business.
Universal Broadband Access
To ensure broadband access for all Iowans by 2025, the Governor’s plan will provide adequate funding to resolve the long-standing issues of technology infrastructure and affordability that have been barriers to expanded access for years.
To achieve this goal, the Governor proposes:
- A $450 million investment by the State
- An annual investment of $150 million for 3 years with grant matching ranging from 35% to 75%.
- Millions in additional private funds will be leveraged.
- Incentivizing providers to expand service in Iowa with the slowest speeds by covering 75% project cost for Tier 1 targeted service areas.
- The new tiered system will scale the state’s covered cost depending on current speed in that area with Tier 2 receiving 50% and Tier 3 receiving 35%.
- Requiring all providers to install at least 100 Mbps download and upload service for all projects that receive grant funding.
- Identify state funding as well as public-private partnership opportunities to subsidize broadband, enabling access for low income Iowans.