The governor will introduce the “Connect Every Acre” broadband initiative during his Condition of the State Address on Tuesday, Jan. 13. A similar measure, “Connect Every Iowan,” was defeated last year in the Iowa House of Representatives.
While there’s no significant opposition to increasing connectivity in the state, according to a report in The Gazette, the 2014 measure was shot down due to concerns over income tax and property tax breaks given to telecommunications companies in the bill. In addition, other lawmakers were skeptical that the companies would build out broadband into the state’s most underserved areas.
Kevin Condon, director of Public Affairs for the Iowa Communications Alliance, told the Gazette that cell tower siting changes were also a problem for some local governments. Bill Heckroth, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of County Supervisors, also testified before the Iowa Legislature that the tax breaks would cost cities and counties $5.72 million in tax revenue.
Broadband expansion has been a hot topic across the U.S. the last few years. Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., petitioned the FCC last year, asking it to vacate state laws that prevent expansion of local government-owned broadband networks. A decision on the petition is still pending.
But with the popularity of Google Fiber and other cities such as Cleveland that are working on broadband projects to help realize the economic benefits connectivity can bring, the issue isn’t likely to go away any time soon.
Jimmy Centers, communications director for Branstad, declined comment on how the governor’s new proposal will address the issues that derailed last year’s plan. He did note, however, that the Connect Every Acre measure is still being finalized, adding that Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds were “pleased” with progress last year and are optimistic about a bill passing in 2015.
“For Iowa to remain competitive in an increasingly global marketplace, we must connect every acre to high-speed broadband Internet,” Centers said. “Not only does that mean connecting agriculture to high-speed Internet, but it also means making sure Iowa’s schools have the ability to give our children access to educational resources available online and main street businesses can connect with the global marketplace.”
Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.