Broadband bill moves out of House committee

Internet 2By Bob Eschliman


Last week, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s bill to facilitate broadband access in targeted areas of the state advanced out of a key House of Representatives committee.

House File 576, a successor bill to House Study Bill 104, passed out of the House Commerce Committee last Wednesday after a slight revision. The bill was approved a committee bill and returned to the House, where it can now be debated and passed by the entire House, on a 22-1 vote.

State Rep. Dawn Pettengill (R-Mount Auburn) was the lone dissenting vote.

HF 576 is titled the “Connect Iowa Farms, Schools, and Communities Act.” If approved, it would declare the General Assembly finds that “increasing the extent and availability of broadband infrastructure throughout the state facilitates the provision of Internet access to citizens, businesses, farms, and communities at speeds that promote economic development, employment, enhanced access to goods and services, increased educational and training opportunities, faster access to government services and health care, and improved overall information and community access for citizens.”

The proposed legislation modifies provisions of Iowa Code related to the Office of the Chief Information Officer, by adding to the powers and duties of the office. Those include streamlining, consolidating, and coordinating access to and availability of broadband and related infrastructure throughout Iowa.

Additionally, under HF 576, the CIO would be tasked with coordinating a new fiberoptic network conduit installation program to incorporate new fiberoptic installations into state-funded construction projects. The CIO may also contract with the third party to manage, lease, install, or otherwise provide fiberoptic network conduit access.

“The program shall not prohibit the [CIO] from purchasing or installing fiberoptic cable within fiberoptic network conduit installed pursuant to the program,” the bill’s explanatory statement says.

HF 576 focuses on download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second, and upload speeds of at least 3 megabits per second. It would require the CIO to establish a competitive grant program for “communication service providers” that provide broadband service to targeted areas.

The proposed legislation would also require political subdivisions vested with permitting authority to rule on non-wireless broadband-related permit requests within 60 business days following submission of an application and payment of the permitting fee. Unless otherwise allowed by law, if no action is taken during the 60-day period, the application shall be deemed approved, under the bill.

The bill adds one member, which must be an emergency medical care provider, to the Iowa Interoperable Communications System Board, and eliminates a provision that required the board to consult with the Iowa Department of Administrative Services director and CIO when appointing its executive director.

HF 576, if approved, would provide a 100-percent property tax exemption for three years for broadband infrastructure installations within targeted service areas that began and was completed on or after July 1, 2014. It establishes the procedures for requesting the exemption through the local county boards of supervisors; the exemption does not go into effect, if approved, until Jan. 1, 2016.

The proposed legislation also declares that school infrastructure, for purposes of statewide school infrastructure funding, “includes the acquisition or installation of information technology,” as defined in the bill.

A number of lobbyist groups have filed declarations on HF 576, some for, some “undecided.” No group or organization has declared it is opposed to the proposed legislation. The Senate version of the bill, Senate Study Bill 1146, remains in committee.