DES MOINES, Iowa - Governor Terry Branstad's "Connect Every Acre" initiative seeks to bring high-speed internet to the most rural parts of Iowa, and this week in Des Moines, the Iowa Communications Alliance is bringing together its 130 rural telecommunication companies to discuss the challenge.
The ICA's annual convention covers a host of issues in the telecommunications industry across Iowa, but leaders say bringing broadband to the small towns in the state is certainly at the forefront. Joe Snyder, General Manager of Citizens Mutual Telefund in Bloomfield, says his community has only had high-speed internet in recent years, but it's allowed the small town to survive.
"As we move forward, the Internet is what can actually bring rural Iowa into a balance with urban areas," he said. "We can compete very well, because now you can work from anywhere. You can work from Iowa, and you can do business anywhere in the world. So, we have entrepreneurs, businesses that operate in Bloomfield, but can do business nation-wide and world-wide because they have quality internet service."
Governor Branstad's push to telecommunications companies to venture into these rural areas is a tough sell, however. Snyder says, with only a few grants at the federal-level available, there sometimes isn't much of an incentive to attempt to bring broadband to these remote locations.
"The larger challenge, quite frankly, is cost," he said. "It's a very expensive project. In town, it can be anywhere to $3,000 to $3,500 per house that you pass just to get that facility to them. In the rural areas, it's even higher."
But Snyder says he hopes Bloomfield can become an example to the rest of rural Iowa as to how significant high-speed internet access can be for a small-town community. Despite business benefits, it's useful for education; schools that embrace technology in the classroom need students to have the ability to connect at home. But the effort is one that Snyder says won't be fully realized anytime soon.
"It's a long-term process," he said. "But I'm confident we're making strides toward achieving it."
Governor Branstad has proposed legislation this session including a $5 million grant program for providers who bring broadband access to under-served areas of the state. The Iowa Legislature is reviewing the proposal.