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Iowa governor signs into law broadband expansion program

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law Wednesday that establishes a statewide grant program designed to provide high-speed internet to areas currently lacking the technology.

Reynolds made internet access improvements one of her priorities this year, and the grant program bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

“The bill addresses a glaring need. As we talked about early on in this session, Iowa currently has the second-slowest broadband speed in the country and a third of our counties are in broadband deserts,” Reynolds said in a speech before signing the bill into law. Deserts refer to areas that have no high-speed internet providers.

She said lawmakers have also agreed to pass a funding bill to provide $100 million for the broadband grant program. That’s less than the $150 million she had requested, but Reynolds said she expects federal coronavirus pandemic aid to provide the additional $50 million she believes is needed to complete the program.

She said the bill sets up a tiered system where areas of the state with the slowest speeds will get priority and service providers may apply to have the state pay for 75% of the cost of of the project when it increases the upload and download speeds to 100 megabytes per second. The grant contribution from the state ratchets down to 35% in areas already equipped with an internet system but where improvements would speed up the service.

Reynolds said Iowa’s least connected cities don’t even have an average speed of 10 megabytes per second.