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DSM USA Policy HQ - Broadband + Connectivity

Broadband and Connectivity

February 15, 2021


The DSM USA Policy HQ podcast is a monthly conversation between experts on public policy topics impacting business and the relationship between government and the private sector.

The newest episode welcomes Matt Behrens, deputy chief information officer and chief technology officer for the State of Iowa Office of the CIO (OCIO), and Mike Colwell, recently retired executive director of entrepreneurial initiatives at the Greater Des Moines Partnership, to discuss broadband infrastructure. 

In his role with the OCIO, Behrens is tasked with building up the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program, including issuing and implementing the grant awards and focusing on the broadband space. Today, the OCIO has issued $45 million in incentives for broadband grants, representing $135 million of new broadband investment in Iowa, which will eventually serve 63,000 homes and businesses across the state.

Broadband Basics

The term, digital divide, was created to explain access to technology, including access in schools. Access is the ability to possess a broadband subscription and a computer to use it. It eventually expanded to include both access and adoption. Adoption is a person’s ability to afford broadband service and whether an individual has the digital skills needed to adopt the technology.

Broadband can be provided within wired (fiber optic, cable and DSL) or wireless technologies (fixed, cellular and satellite technologies). What matters most in broadband are upload and download speeds. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the thresholds measured should be 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. The state uses the FCC’s definition as its standard, but in newly proposed Iowa legislation, Governor Kim Reynolds is looking at a new standard of 100 Mbps down and 100 Mbps up. Behrens says the higher standards, along with the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program, should help ensure Iowans can participate in today’s digital world and support challenges in the future. 

Proposed Legislation in Iowa

The Partnership is supportive of new legislation being proposed to address access to broadband throughout the state — it’s one of the organization’s five legislative priorities for 2021. The legislation includes setting the 100/100 standard mentioned above and expanding the mapping process to make even more areas of the state eligible. There are currently around 22,000 census blocks eligible to receive incentives. The bill would increase that amount, allowing for the slowest to receive a higher match of funds, while addressing other blocks to continue to receive funds, just at a lower tier. 

Access in the State

Colwell says that density is important when considering putting broadband in different areas. From a business standpoint, it makes more sense to lay fiber optics in a suburban development with 100 houses going in than it does to lay miles of fiber optics in the country, where there might be one house every quarter of a mile. Behrens agrees, saying the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program helps make that economic model make sense for the carrier.

Listen to the entire podcast here.

The DSM USA Policy Headquarters podcast focuses on public policy topics impacting business and the relationship between government and the private sector. Join us each month to hear from local Greater Des Moines (DSM) experts. To listen to more Partnership podcasts, click here.


The DSM USA Policy HQ podcast focuses on public policy topics impacting business and the relationship between government and the private sector.