Republicans and Democrats in the Iowa Legislature say they plan to pay special focus on bridging the state's so-called digital divide, a tech discrepancy gap that has been accentuated by the outbreak of COVID-19.
(TNS) — Republicans and
Lawmakers said they intend to push forward additional funding and legislation to facilitate continued expansion of high-speed broadband internet across the state, with more and more Iowans working and learning from home and accessing medical care online.
The Iowa Legislative session begins Monday.
"I think those were issues that we knew were on our radar that needed to be addressed but I think that (the pandemic) amplified them and put them right in our face," Grassley, R-
"Those last miles are so expensive," Grassley said. "Broadband is a very expensive proposition but it's not something that we shouldn't try to partner with private industry to try to address."
Entire workforces, colleges and K-12 education have shifted online, as companies and schools emptied due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
Canceled entertainment and sporting events and restrictions on social gathering also drove millions of Americans to rely on home broadband networks to stream entertainment and interact with the outside world, advancing the need for more robust broadband internet.
Carriers, including Mediacom and
But lawmakers and broadband advocates say the coronavirus also exposed truths about the digital divide, where lagging internet service has left rural businesses, school districts and students stranded.
"There are haves and have nots, and with the current pandemic the have nots have been left at an extreme disadvantage, whether they're trying to telework, access telehealth care, complete online assignments or participate in distance learning in a virtual classroom, or reach new customers online," said
The latest information from BroadbandNow, an organization that collects and analyzes internet provider coverage and availability, ranks
"Despite relatively even broadband coverage throughout the state, speed tests reveal that
BroadbandNow indicates that more than 300,000 Iowans lack access to a wired broadband connection with speeds of 25 Mbps or faster. Another 100,000 residents do not have access to any wired connection, and 457,000 Iowans have access to only one wired provider at their residence, leaving them no options to change providers if the need arises.
Beyond that, about 18.5% of
State lawmakers last session increased the maximum grant amount available to service providers from 15 percent to 35 percent of project costs that meet a minimum download speed of 100 Mbps per second and a minimum upload speed of 20 Mbps per second, and changed the definitions for underserved areas and what constitutes meaningful service.
Calling high-speed broadband "critical infrastructure" for rural areas, Gov.
The money would go toward improving connectivity and adjusting the state match to leverage private and federal funding in an effort to build out broadband to every part of
The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Reynolds last month announced more than $140 million had been awarded to 11 broadband providers in rural
"But it's still scratching the surface of what's needed to make sure that Iowan is connected," said Menner of the
"We need to look at what needs to be done to break down those barriers," for providers to expand broadband to underserved and unserved rural and urban areas of the state, "including funding to more rapidly address the expansion of both fiber as well as other technologies — satellite, cellular, fixed wireless or TV whitespace."
House Appropriations Chairman
"We have to spend the money in these types of areas and (
It's a proposal supported by
Schultz said while broadband "is of utmost importance," funding alone will not solve the issue and that providers are looking for a broader plan from state officials to guide and protect long-term investments expanding broadband service to rural areas.
"There simply isn't enough money to run fiber every mile," he said. "It's not feasible. ... The mission of the Commerce Committee is to level the playing field and get out of the way and let employers and employees bring us back to the top, post-COVID.
"We have players who want to invest ... and it's our job to get out of the way and make sure that those that want to pitch in have every opportunity."
(c)2021 Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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