UPDATE: Iowa needs to play catch-up with surrounding states in building out its broadband capacities to provide Internet access to all residents who want it, Gov. Terry Branstad said Tuesday.
Branstad said he has directed a state task force to look at impediments and possible federal funding or public-private investments to significantly increase the access, adoption, and use of broadband technology for all Iowans.
“We realize this interconnectivity is going to be a key to economic development, and we want Iowa to be in a leading position on this,” Branstad said in announcing a “Connect Every Iowa” initiative. Backers likened the effort to expanding electricity to rural areas and building farm-to-market roads last century.
“This is electricity of the future,” the governor told his weekly news conference. “This is going to be critically important to economic progress and we want to make sure that we don’t have people left out.”
Branstad said Iowa currently ranks 47th in the nation in terms of access to the highest-speed connections, while over 680,000 Iowans — nearly one-third of the state — do not have access to even slow-speed broadband service.
“We want to make Iowa the most connected state in the Midwest,” Branstad said.
Currently, Iowa stands 11th out of 12 Midwestern states on the TechNet State Broadband Index, behind neighboring states such as Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri and Illinois. The index is compiled from three measures: The household adoption rate of broadband, network speeds of available broadband infrastructure, and the amount of jobs in information and communication technology industries that benefit from broadband technology.
“We need to make sure rural Iowa has the tools to stay connected, because connectivity is the great equalizer,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Branstad said he has asked a STEM Advisory Council’s Broadband Committee to develop legislative recommendations by Dec. 1 for next session to encourage broadband build-out throughout Iowa, particularly in un-served or under-served areas.
The committee, which will meet twice a month beginning on Sept. 10, also has been tasked with developing a strategic plan by January 2015 for accomplishing the broadband connectivity goal. He said one possible outcome would be to consider ways to repurpose the Iowa Communications Network to help meet the needs of rural areas.
“We are in uncharted ground and there is no one solution,” said John Carver, the superintendent of the Howard-Winnishiek Community School District who serves as co-chair of the STEM panel. “It takes multiple points of light to make this go.”
Amy Kuhlers of Connect Iowa, a non-profit organization that will provide administrative support and technical expertise for the study panel, said about 234,000 Iowa households do not have access to broadband with download speeds that adequately support basic internet functions.
Connect Iowa research indicates that 29 percent of Iowa residents and 22,000 businesses still do not subscribe to broadband, she added, noting that efforts to drive up the adoption rate in homes and businesses would have positive ramifications across all sectors.
An economic impact report released by Connected Nation estimated that a 1 percentage point broadband adoption increase could result in more than 26,000 jobs created or saved in Iowa and a boost to Iowa’s economy totaling about $1.2 billion annually.
“I’m confident Iowans all across the state will benefit from the initiative – most importantly, more broadband access means more jobs for Iowans,” said Branstad.
Tuesday’s announcement initially through support from private-sector broadband providers.
“CenturyLink appreciates the efforts of Gov. Branstad to further strengthen Iowa’s broadband climate, which will ultimately grow Iowa’s economy and enhance educational opportunities,” said Michael Sadler, CenturyLink’s assistant vice president for public policy and government relations. “We look forward to working with all stakeholders and policymakers to increase broadband adoption and access.”
Dave Duncan, president of the Iowa Telecommunications Association (ITA), praised the governor for looking for ways to incentivize providers to make broadband high-speed internet services available to all Iowans.
“Broadband connectivity is an essential service when you are looking to advance Iowa’s economic growth opportunities,” Duncan said. “Whether you are a small business looking to connect to customers around the world, a farmer checking global markets, or a student doing homework, you cannot afford to be without high-speed broadband internet access.”
Members of the STEM Advisory Council’s Broadband Committee: