Gov. Branstad pushes for broadband expansion in Iowa

Gov. proposes repurposing state-owned Iowa Communications Network

Mike Wiser
Published: January 14 2014 | 3:45 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:06 am in

DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad’s push to subsidize broadband expansion received generally positive reviews from lawmakers Tuesday.

Branstad called for a Connect Every Iowan Act that offers property tax exemptions for companies that build or upgrade their networks in areas where broadband is limited or unavailable.

“As our connection speeds increase, so does the pace of our economic progress, so does our ability to grow jobs and so does our ability to turn the Iowa Dream into reality,” Branstad told a joint session of the General Assembly during his Condition of the State address.

The initiative could be a boon for rural communities that might otherwise not have access to broadband.

“I represent a lot of rural areas, but most of these are served by a lot of these private telecommunications companies, and there is a lot of fiber that’s already laid,” said Rep. Steve Olson, R-Dewitt. “But you get off in the more rural setting, it becomes an issue.

“Every day, more and more people work from home, and local school systems, a lot of kids have access, but if they’re going to do anything outside of the classroom, they have to have the ability to hook up.”

In addition to tax incentives, Branstad’s proposal adds $2 million to an internship program for up to 400 interns at $5,000 each to go into science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

The governor also has proposed repurposing the state-owned Iowa Communications Network to allow private providers to purchase bandwidth from the system. This would allow private companies to build off the infrastructure and serve retail customers, including homes and businesses.

“The thing that took me off guard was the repurpose of the ICN,” said Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf. “We tried to sell that last year, and it didn’t get bought. I think we’ll have to look at this real close to see what he wants to do.”

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