Even with Iowa on the line for $415.3 million from the Biden administration to expand high-speed Internet access, part of a record $42.5 billion being rolled out nationwide, experts they wonder if it will be enough to connect homes without broadband services and juice speeds for those with slow access.
An estimated 1.3 million homes in Iowa have an Internet connection, leaving more than 84,000 without.
“Is that enough money to give most people in Iowa an Internet connection? We’ll see,” said Dave Duncan, CEO of the Iowa Communications Alliance, whose group represents nearly 130 rural communications companies across the state.
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It’s a significant challenge.
“Those remaining unserved positions are really the hardest to service and they’re the most expensive,” Duncan said Tuesday.
Thousands more Iowans have slow access, he said. But the improvement in connection speed will only come after all residents have a digital connection.
“We’ve heard from many Iowans who have service but aren’t served by robust and fast broadband service,” Duncan said.
Broadband spending garners bipartisan praise
Announcing the funding on Monday, Biden called it the largest investment ever in high-speed Internet and likened his administration’s efforts to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Act of 1936, which aimed to bring electricity to ” every American home and farm in our nation.”
“For today’s economy to work for everyone, internet access is just as important as electricity or water or other basic services were,” said Biden, who was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris.
The Biden administration has said that all US states, the District of Columbia and the territories will have “the resources to connect every resident and small business to reliable and affordable high-speed Internet” by 2030.
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US Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who voted for the Infrastructure Act, has lauded federal investment in Iowa. In addition to broadband, the Biden administration announced $43 million in state transportation grants.
Access to broadband and efficient transportation is critical to connecting people and positioning communities for long-term success,” Grassley said in a statement.
Today’s infrastructure investments will kick-start critical projects, particularly in rural areas of our state,” he said.
Patty Judge, a former lieutenant governor of Iowa under Governor Chet Culver, joined in the bipartisan eulogy.
Rural Iowa cannot survive, cannot thrive without the Internet. It’s how people do business today, said Judge, a Democrat who co-founded Focus on Rural America to elevate rural issues during regional and national elections. Both sides of the political aisle have understood this.
The “watershed moment” allows states to address gaps in service
The White House said 19 states received more than $1 billion each, with the top 10 appropriations in Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
States will have 180 days to detail how they intend to manage their broadband subsidy programs, the Commerce Department said.
This is a watershed moment for millions of people across America who don’t have access to high-speed Internet, Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of commerce and head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said in a statement. access grant programs with confidence and engage with communities to ensure this money is spent where it is needed most.
Lack of internet access has become starkly evident during the global pandemic that has forced millions of people to work and study online, and the Iowa State Education Association said access to technology and equipment in Iowa remains patchy.
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There are schools across the state that can provide computer access to all students, including high-speed Internet service, but there is uneven distribution based on geography and zip code in too many school districts, he said Mike Beranek, the president of the association, in an email.
We believe access to equipment and technology shouldn’t be based on where you live, rather it should be based on the belief that all children are entitled to the tools and resources they need to thrive, Beranek said.
Does the focus on rural areas neglect the poor city dwellers?
But Sean Gonsalves, a spokesman for the Institute for Local Self Reliance in Minneapolis, said his group isn’t sure all Americans will have access to high-speed Internet, even with record investments.
Among the reasons: The federal program is designed to invest in connecting unserved and underserved Americans in rural areas, not urban areas, where high poverty rates have led to poor service.
Big telecom providers and monopolies don’t want competition in urban areas, said Gonsalves, whose group studies community broadband access.
And even with the Affordable Connectivity Program providing low-income Americans $30 a month to help pay for the service, Gonsalves said it’s not enough to make Internet access affordable. Increased competition will help bring prices down, he said she, and improve service.
“If you’re served by a monopoly, a single Internet provider, it’s take it or leave it,” Gonsalves said.
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The White House also distributes transit funds; The primary state beneficiary of Iowa City
In addition to praising the Internet investment, Grassley highlighted three Iowa transportation awards announced Monday: nearly $23.3 million for Iowa City to purchase electric buses and replace its maintenance and operations facility from the 80s; nearly $17.9 million for the Iowa Department of Transportation to help five rural transit agencies purchase electric buses; and nearly $2.4 million for The Jule Transit System in Dubuque to purchase electric buses and charging equipment.
The money is part of nearly $1.7 billion earmarked for transit projects in 46 states and territories.
Also on Monday, the US Environmental Protection Agency said small Iowa communities that have been underserved or disadvantaged could apply for $711,000 in grants to improve their drinking water infrastructure.
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Registry. Reach them at email@example.com or 515-284-8457.
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