September 19, 2021

Iowa receives $292M in grant requests for $100M broadband program

2 min read

Iowa will “look to leverage federal funds” to accommodate broadband providers’ interest in the latest Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program, state officials announced Aug. 3.

During the July 1 to July 28 application period, the Office of the Chief Information Officer received 178 applications from providers, which requested over $292 million in grant funding. That’s nearly triple the $100 million that legislators set aside through HF848 this year.

“Build it, and they will come,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in the release. “The nearly 200 applications as well as the size and scope of these projects reflect the demand and need for quality accessible broadband throughout Iowa. This effort will open for Iowa communities large and small, resulting in one of the most significant broadband build-outs in the entire country.”

Reynolds included universal broadband access as a goal in her 2021 Condition of the State address and signed HF848 on April 28.

Evaluation factors for grant recipients include Tier 1 Composition (22.2% weight), Relative Need for New Broadband and Existing Broadband Service Speeds (19.4% weight), Relative Speed (16.7% weight), and Budget Composition (11.1% weight). Tier 1, where no provider offers at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speed, includes 10,052 households and 11 schools, according to the office. Tier 2 includes 61,191 households, and Tier 3 includes 35,038 households.

Competitive Enterprise Institute Research Fellow Ryan Nabil told The Center Square he believes Iowa should not apply for federal funding to increase the grants available for the program.

“Instead of seeking new subsidies, Iowan policymakers should use the existing funding effectively by prioritizing broadband connectivity in areas with no internet services –instead of just areas with slow internet speed,” Nabil said. “They should also seek to increase competition between cable, fiber, fixed wireless, 5G and satellite-based internet providers. Those types of market-based approaches will most benefit consumers.”

The office anticipates making final decisions by Sept. 3, although all dates are subject to change, according to the notice of funding available. Grant agreement negotiations and executions are scheduled for Sept. 17.

Office of the Chief Information Officer Public Information Officer/Legislative Liaison Gloria Van Rees told The Center Square in an emailed statement Aug. 5 the office is unable to comment on applications “until all of them have been reviewed” and that they anticipate publishing all applications on the office’s website “on or around” Aug. 13.

Grantees must repay the office any “applicable portion of any grant funds” the office gives them if the office or an auditor determines the money was spent improperly or lacked sufficient documentation, according to the grant agreement. The providers that receive grants are also required to declare the amount and percent of the total project cost that received state funding. Projects must be completed by April 30, 2025, Van Rees said.

Under the bill, the office receives $2.5 million to pay expenses related to the administration and operation of the grant program and the fiberoptic network conduit installation program.

This article was originally posted on Iowa receives $292M in grant requests for $100M broadband program

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