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Governor approves budget bill with money for broadband improvements

DES MOINES — Governor Reynolds has signed a budget bill that includes $100 million for state grants to companies that extend broadband to areas of the state that don’t have service today — or to significantly improve slow broadband speeds in other areas.

“Areas of the state with the least connectivity today will soon experience a significant improvement in high-speed internet,” Reynolds said recently, “and gain access to high tech, high touch services that come along with it.”

Reynolds said there’s “a glaring need” and this money, along with another bill that outlines grant specifications, addresses it.

“The state of Iowa’s broadband infrastructure is about to reverse quickly and dramatically,” Reynolds said.

The move got bipartisan support in the legislature. However, Representative Chris Hall, a Democrat from Sioux City, said the state could have used $100 million in federal pandemic relief money rather than state tax dollars.

“We know that the use of those funds for broadband expansion is accepted and that it is the best ways that we can keep our General Fund dollars also flexible,” Hall said during House debate.

Governor Reynolds had asked legislators for $150 million dollars and she plans to use $50 million in pandemic relief money along with $100 million in state money to reach that goal.

Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls unsuccessfully sought to create a new state commission, similar to the Iowa Transportation Commission, to review grant applications “to facilitate strategic plan to rapidly connect Iowa households and evaluate grant applications for the new broadband program.”

Republicans say the state’s Office of the Chief Information Officer has handled previous rounds of broadband expansion grants and it makes sense to keep that office in charge of this next round of funding. Reynolds plans to ask the 2022 Iowa legislature to provide an additional $300 million more state dollars for the program in each of the next two years.

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