Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Monday that the Office of the Chief Information Officer will provide an additional $200 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to companies expanding broadband access in Iowa. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during an event. (Rodney White/Des Moines Register via AP, Pool)

Iowa governor announces $200M more in broadband grants

Mary Stroka, The Center Square contributor October 13, 07:00 PM October 13, 07:00 PM

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Monday that the Office of the Chief Information Officer will provide an additional $200 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to companies expanding broadband access in Iowa.

In September, Reynolds and the state awarded applicants $97.5 million in Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Program state-funded grants. The 178 requests in that round totaled $300 million.

“I continue to hear from Iowans who still lack access to the broadband speeds necessary to start a business, telework, or connect with a healthcare provider,” Reynolds said in a statement.

In the new grant program, communications service providers, including telecommunication companies and local governments, can apply for up to 60% of project costs in eligible areas of the state, the news release said.

Applications must intend to provide last-mile broadband service to unserved and underserved areas with at least 100/100 reliable broadband or “in cases where it is not practicable, because of the excessive cost of the project or geography or topography of the area to be served by the project to provide 100/100 Broadband that reliably meets or exceeds 100/20 Broadband,” but not both, the Notice of Funding Availability said. Upon project completion, wireless projects must have a network backhaul that can provide those speeds. Projects proposing 100/20 broadband must be scalable to 100/100 within three years of completion. The eligible service areas are those that the U.S. Census determined do not have access to speeds of at least 25/3 broadband (Tier 1), which meets the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds requirements of the U.S. Department of Treasury.

“Communications service providers are encouraged to apply for a grant to install broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved locations,” the release said.

In an emailed statement to The Center Square on Monday, Iowa Communications Alliance CEO Dave Duncan praised the governor for “this bold move” to expand broadband services to Iowans in Tier 1.

“We have heard that before NOFA #6, there were over 9,800 census blocks identified as ‘unserved’ in tier 1,” Duncan said. “While I haven’t seen data on how many census blocks will be served from NOFA #6 we understand that thousands of census blocks remain unserved, so this additional $200 million infusion should go a long way toward connecting the remaining ‘unserved’ Iowans.”

Duncan said the last round of funding made progress for broadband access.

“By our count, in NOFA #6, 38 of the 39 awards go to providers deploying fiber-to-the-home service, offering at least 100/100 speeds and typically up to a gigabit or faster,” he said. “So we believe NOFA 6 did a great job of satisfying the Governor’s goal of providing future-proof services via the state programs.”

Reynolds’ Communications Director Alex Murphy told The Center Square in an emailed statement that previous applicants will need to reapply.

“We don’t anticipate there being any funding leftover from this grant opportunity,” Murphy added.

The Office of the Chief Information Officer has spent $18.5 million of its Iowa Coronavirus Relief Fund on the broadband grants program as of Oct. 1, according to the Iowa Department of Management summary. The fund received $1.25 billion in federal funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on April 20, 2020. Unexpended funds total $113.7 million.

The Office of the Chief Information Officer will be available for questions beginning Oct. 15, the release said. The office will hold a pre-application conference at 2 p.m. Oct. 14. Registration is required and can be completed here. A map of eligible service areas will be provided Oct. 14.

Applications can be submitted to the office between Oct. 25 and 5 p.m. Nov. 22. The office will publicly post applications it receives after the application window closes and anticipates publicly posting its decisions on awards by Dec. 31. More information about the grant program is available on the office’s website.

Chief Information Officer Annette Dunn is resigning, effective Oct. 22, Reynolds announced last week.

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