Branstad signs 'Connect Every Acre' bill into law

Branstad signs 'Connect Every Acre' bill into law

It will encourage expansion of high-speed broadband Internet to unserved and underserved areas of Iowa.

Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad on June 22 signed the "Connect Every Acre" high-speed broadband bill into law. The bill, House File 655, encourages the expansion of high-speed broadband Internet to all corners of the state helping to foster growth for modern agriculture, increase access for rural communities and school districts, and help connect small businesses to the global marketplace.

EXPAND BROADBAND: Expanding access to high-speed Internet will help rural Iowans compete in a digital economy. Many farmers are using advanced precision technology on their equipment to plant crops, check the weather and markets, and communicate with suppliers.

The bill passed the Iowa Senate 48-2 on June 4, 2015. It passed the Iowa House 82-12 on June 4, 2015. The legislation will expand high-speed Internet in rural communities and wireless connectivity will be improved by providing a uniform statewide framework for locating cell towers, said Branstad. The legislation, known as the "Connecting Iowa Farms, Schools and Communities Act," was a key piece of Branstad's 2015 legislative agenda. He signed the bill in a ceremony Monday at Van Wall Equipment, a farm implement dealership in Perry.

Connecting every acre of Iowa to high-speed broadband
"As the Battelle 2.0 study found, sound infrastructure is a prerequisite for economic development. Our state already has a low unemployment rate of 3.8%, but to continue our growth, we must look at ways to encourage connecting every acre of Iowa to high-speed broadband," said Branstad. "I'm pleased with the strong bipartisan support this measure received in the Iowa Legislature. Together, Iowa lawmakers came together to pass this meaningful legislation to continue building Iowa for the future."

The Battelle 2.0 study found that 31% of businesses surveyed (13,000 in all) that want higher broadband speeds can't get it at their current location. The Battelle 2.0 study concluded, "In broadband development, the uneven development in Iowa is of great concern. For this updated economic development roadmap, the priority is placed on addressing the business needs for broadband speeds and reliability, no matter where a business is located in Iowa, including Iowa's farmers who increasingly need to access broadband for new innovations involving precision agriculture."

Will help precision farm equipment become better connected
Iowa's Lt. Gov., Kim Reynolds, was on-hand for the signing. "As Gov. Branstad and I travel across Iowa, we've heard from small businesses on Main Street that want to expand, but lack of high-speed Internet is preventing growth," said Reynolds. "We've heard from agriculture producers that their farm equipment isn't being fully utilized due to a lack of connectivity. We've seen Iowa school districts that have students unable to connect to the wealth of resources online. The Connect Every Acre law signed by Gov. Branstad today will allow Iowa to continue our economic growth and connect all corners of the state to high-speed internet."

John Carver, superintendent of Howard-Winneshiek Community School District, previously stated, "Right now today, broadband is a determining factor in instruction. A child's education in Iowa isn't limited by where they are physically; it's limited by broadband access."

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New law will help strengthen broadband access in Iowa
Branstad said the bill he signed into law, House File 655, does the following to strengthen broadband in Iowa:

•Provides for the coordination and facilitation of broadband access in targeted services throughout the state. 

•Establishes a grant program to award grants to communication service providers by installing broadband infrastructure in targeted service areas that prioritize connecting Iowa farms, schools and communities.

•Creates uniform rules and limitations for wireless communications facilities and infrastructure pertaining to cell towers.

•Tasks the office of the Chief Information Officer to lead and coordinate the installation of fiberoptic conduit where it doesn't currently exist.   

Without high-speed connections, farm productivity is limited
The bill signing was held at Van Wall Equipment in Perry, Iowa. The equipment dealer supplies Iowa farmers with highly technical machinery that is optimized for precision farming by connecting to the Internet and through cellular signal connection. Without high-speed connections across the state, farm productivity is diminished.

"We know it will take some time to get this in place and get things up and running, but we want to move forward on this as fast as we can," Branstad said.

The bill defines broadband service as providing downloads of at least 25 megabits per second and uploads of at least 3 megabits per second. State officials say about 50% to 60% of Iowa currently has access to high-speed Internet service, which is increasingly important to foster the growth of modern agriculture, to connect small businesses to the global marketplace and to help rural communities and school districts.

Governor is confident ways can be found to fund the program
The legislation creates a property tax exemption of 100% for 10 years for installations of equipment in a targeted service area. Also, the bill provides a framework for a grants program for installation of broadband service in targeted service areas, but there is no state money to fund it. The legislation will allow federal, state or private money to be used for grants. Branstad says he is confident ways can be found to provide sources of money for the grants program.

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