Gov. Terry Branstad says broadband access in Iowa isn’t what it should be, or needs to be in the future. So he’s asking an advisory panel to come up with some ideas.
From our man Rod Boshart at the Statehouse:
State officials are embarking on a public-private effort to significantly increase the access, adoption, and use of broadband technology for all Iowans.
Gov. Terry Branstad announced a “Connect Every Iowa” initiative Tuesday at his weekly news conference, likening the effort to expanding electricity to rural areas last century and calling it critical to the state’s economic development and job creation future.
“We want to make Iowa the most connected state in the Midwest,” Branstad said.
Currently, Iowa ranks 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.
Branstad asked his STEM Committee – a panel co-led by Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds – to develop legislative recommendations and a strategic plan for accomplishing the broadband connectivity goal.
From a policy standpoint, this is a good idea. I wrote about this topic back in July, and although adoption and use are real concerns, it’s access to higher-quality, higher-speed broadband that is a bigger worry in a lot of Iowa towns and rural areas. More and more businesses need more and more capacity and speed to do what they do, and some parts of the state simply can’t provide what those businesses need. It keeps more than a few economic development types up at night. Schools and health care providers also have a lot at stake in this access issue.
Good broadband now is necessary infrastructure. “This is electricity of the future,” said Branstad, comparing broadband expansion to rural electrification.
He’s also right to view this as a public-private partnership, because the state can’t do it all. But government needs to make sure that any investments it makes actually result in valuable, expanded access. Similar federal efforts have sparked debate on Capitol Hill over the value of such public investments.
From a political standpoint, it’s also likely that Branstad is eager to show whippersnappers like Rep. Tyler Olson that he can do all that gigabit stuff with the Facebook, too. In announcing his campaign for governor, Olson, a Democrat, pointed to a lack of business broadband access as a failure of the current administration. A big part of Olson’s new generation strategy is to make Branstad look like dial-up CompuServe. Now, the governor has answered.
Hopefully, his panel will come up with some smart policy ideas. Although I’m not optimistic much will happen in an election year Legislature.
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