When President Obama made his speech urging the FCC to preempt state laws prohibiting municipal networks, he made it in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The state had no such law, and Cedar Falls, home to the University of Northern Iowa, has a gigabit municipal network. While this lack of a law made Iowa a prime example of the president’s vision, it’s now the passage of a new law that could improve high-speed Internet access for even more Iowans.
A new law in Iowa seeks to increase the availability of broadband in rural portions of the state by offering tax breaks to companies that expand access in rural areas. Governor Terry Branstad called it the “Connect Every Acre” bill because, he said, connecting every acre of the state to high-speed Internet is crucial for continued economic growth.
Iowa taxpayers should be pleased to know that the bill uses no state funds to accomplish its goal. Although the state will manage a grant program to expand broadband availability, money for those grants will come from the federal government, non-profit groups, and private investors. The bill also offers 10-year property tax exemptions to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that expand broadband access in specific rural areas.
The Current State of Iowa’s Internet
Robert von Wollfradt, Iowa’s Chief Information Officer, says broadband Internet is already available in 60 percent of the state. Data from online analytics company Ookla shows that Iowa just barely beats the national average for Internet value in terms of cost per Mbps, but below the national averages for connection quality and advertised speed vs. actual speed. Akamai’s latest “State of the Internet” report shows that Iowa ranks 19th among the states for average Internet speed.
Given that population density is a major factor in the availability of fiber networks, states like Iowa, with few large population centers, have to pick up some of the slack that industry and the federal government programs like the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Connect America program won’t. Analyzing Ookla’s data alongside U.S. Census Bureau data showed that population density correlates with Internet value. Iowa ranks 36th among states for population density, and the only cities with populations of more than 100,000 are Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.
Why Rural Broadband Matters to Iowa
Although bringing broadband to rural communities is important for education and luring new businesses, broadband access, particularly Wi-Fi, plays an increasingly large part in one of the state’s oldest industries, agriculture. Consider that it’s not just the FCC promoting expansion of rural broadband: the U.S. Department of Agriculture is also involved, offering loans to companies expanding rural broadband. Connectivity is making farming equipment increasingly productivity, and John Deere predicts a future of machine-to-machine connections—in other words, the Internet of Things is going farming.
Not all Iowans seeking faster Internet access need to wait until the new law spurs change. If you haven’t looked for a better plan lately, you might be surprised at what’s available. And you’ll definitely be surprised at how easy it is to shop for that faster connection – just enter your zip code below to get started.
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