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OTHER VOICES: Investment needed to end 'broadband deserts' in Iowa

OTHER VOICES: Investment needed to end 'broadband deserts' in Iowa

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IOWA IDEAS INTRO

Workers connect lengths of plastic conduit to pulling eyes before pulling the plastic tubing through a newly bored hole on June 20 as work continues to install fiber optic cable for high-speed internet in Washington, Iowa.

For the past three years, I have served as a member of the state Broadband Grant Review Committee and as a member of the broadband working group of the Governor’s Economic Recovery Board.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn more about Iowa’s growing need for reliable high-speed internet. Each year the Broadband Review Committee receives applications from across the state. Our committee scores the applications and suggests a funding amount. The projects all have merit, but unfortunately the requests for matching funds far exceed the resources available.

In my position leading economic development in Cherokee County, I often hear from residents about the need for broadband expansion and additional resources to support projects. Events of the past year have only reinforced the urgency for better access statewide, especially in rural Iowa. According to the governor’s report, one-third of Iowa’s counties are still “broadband deserts,” meaning high-speed broadband is rarely available. In addition, Iowa has the second slowest internet speeds nationwide, and a mere 18.5% of Iowans (45th nationally) have access to affordable internet. The current national average is 50.1%.

Bold action is needed to address these issues. Planning for Iowa’s future, Gov. Kim Reynolds has developed such a plan. The governor’s proposal will work to ensure that all Iowans have broadband access by the year 2025. When approved, her plan will propel Iowa from one of the lowest ranking states to one of the best in broadband access.

To reach the goal of universal access, the governor’s plan calls for an investment of $450 million. The state’s investment will leverage millions of dollars in private funds by providing matching grants up to 75% of the cost of the broadband project. This investment will bring several projects to fruition that would not have been possible in the past.

Our leaders in Des Moines have worked to keep Iowa’s economy strong. Let’s put politics aside and work together to make this plan a reality. To quote Gov. Reynolds, “We can’t take small steps and hope for big change. Now is the time to be bold.” I couldn’t agree more with the governor. An investment in a statewide broadband plan is an investment in our people and our future.

Bill Anderson, a former state senator, is executive director of Cherokee Area Economic Development Corp.

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