Industry leaders: Broadband Expansion Across Iowa Could Cost $850 Million

February 15, 2021

Iowa Capital Dispatch, Perry Beeman

The total cost of installing high-speed broadband access statewide, including private investments, could be nearly twice the $450 million Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed in state matching money through 2025, industry representatives told a Senate subcommittee Monday.

Senate Study Bill 1089 advanced to the full Senate Commerce Committee. Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, chairman of the Commerce Committee, said he expects the legislation to advance to the floor of the Senate.

Reynolds policy adviser Logan Shine pushed back on comments from some communications companies suggesting it could be impractical, slow and expensive to offer the fastest service to all parts of the state.

Shine noted that the governor-appointed Economic Recovery Advisory Board and others have supported speeds of 100 megabits per second for both downloads and uploads.

Installing slower speeds than that would discourage development in Iowa and would set the state up for another round of upgrades in the near future, supporters of Reynolds’ bill said.

“That is why the governor has proposed such a significant investment and has set the bar very high, knowing that when all of you guys go back to your constituents, and when the governor travels all across the state, she’s going to be able to look them in the eye in rural Iowa and say, ‘You deserve (100 mbps download/100 mbps upload) service just as the people in Iowa City, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Sioux City have. It shouldn’t matter where you are around the state,” Shine said.

The governor’s advisory board estimated $450 million would be enough to leverage coverage for the entire state, Shine added.

Joe Murphy, executive director of the Iowa Business Council, which represents some of Iowa’s largest employers, pushed for the higher speeds.

“We really feel the 100 (mbps) uploaded and 100 (mbps) downloaded is just absolutely significant and important to this bill,” Murphy said. “We think that as we look to future-proof our economy, future-proof our innovation, putting the time and effort and expense into this project now will pay dividends for the future.

“The worst thing that we can do is to do something now that we’ll have to come back in two or three or four years down the road and redo all over again,” Murphy said.

Timothy Fencl of Danville Telecom, who is a board member with the Iowa Communications Alliance, said estimates have run to $800 million to $850 million to cover the state. He said the state’s share could eventually top $450 million depending on which matching grants various projects earn.

Lobbyist Scott Weiser of Windstream Communications Corp. said he also had heard a figure of $800 million or so for the full buildout, including private investment. “Those are the numbers that folks have discussed in the past. There certainly is going to be a lot of leveraging of private money and I think that’s what we’re all talking about here in our company.

“Windstream is going to play here, Weiser added. “We’re very attracted by the package and we continue to talk with the governor’s office and others about specific language, but at the end of the day we want to be on the team that moves the ball forward.”

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