Iowa is one step closer to expanded broadband connectivity in the state. House File 641, Gov. Terry Branstad’s “Connect Every Acre” initiative, passed the Iowa House of Representatives by a 90-5 vote on April 21.
The measure, which uses a litany of income and property tax breaks to incentivize the build-out of broadband networks in the state’s underserved areas, now must be ratified in the Senate.
This is the second time around for Branstad’s proposal. It was initially defeated in the House during the 2014 legislative session over concerns that the tax breaks were too high and skepticism that providers would take on projects in Iowa’s rural areas. The legislation was re-introduced on Jan. 13, during Branstad’s “Condition of the State” address.
Jimmy Centers, spokesman for Branstad, told Government Technology that the issues have been addressed, noting that the current legislation actually extends the tax credit length by seven additional years in comparison to the original proposal. With the landslide vote in favor of HF 641 in the House, the governor is confident in the bill’s prospects in the Senate.
“We’re pleased with the bipartisan support the governor’s 'Connect Every Acre' plan has received in the Iowa Legislature,” Centers said. “The governor believes that if Iowa is to continue growing, we must connect agriculture to modern technology, education to online resources and businesses to the global marketplace.”
Broadband installations that qualify under HF 641 are exempt from property tax for a period of 10 years. To qualify, projects must take place within a targeted service area defined by the U.S. Census Bureau where download speeds of 25 Mbps or more and upload speeds of 3 Mbps or more are not currently available.
Government Technology reached out to the Iowa State Association of Counties for its take on the measure and the impact property tax breaks may have on county finances, but did not hear back by press time.
Broadband connectivity, particularly expansion to rural areas, has been a continual issue of debate across all levels of government. The FCC recently vacated state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that prevented expansion of local government-owned broadband networks. And while the FCC’s ruling is being challenged in court, the economic benefits of widespread broadband have states and localities increasingly considering larger investments in connectivity.
Earlier this year, New York introduced a new program to accelerate high-speed Internet expansion across the state. And cities, such as Jacksonville, Ill., are also looking at how to light up a fiber network that could potentially connect the city and its outlying areas, despite geography and population-density problems.
In Iowa, Branstad is committed to expanding connectivity’s reach as wide as it can go in the state.
“The governor’s ‘Connect Every Acre’ plan will work to encourage broadband expansion by providers all across Iowa,” Centers said. “The governor and a large bipartisan majority of lawmakers in the House believe this will go to great lengths in making Iowa the most connected state in the Midwest.”
At press time on April 24, HF 641 was located in the Iowa Senate's Ways and Means Committee. No hearing date had been set.