---- — DES MOINES — Improving access to broadband Internet technology across Iowa — particularly in rural areas — is the goal of a new initiative Gov. Terry Branstad announced Tuesday.
Branstad unveiled "Connect Every Iowan," an initiative designed to improve broadband access and adoption across the state. Branstad says enhanced access will spur economic development through business creation and by giving rural residents the ability to telecommute.
"We want to make Iowa the most connected state in the Midwest," said Branstad.
According to Connect Iowa, a group that works on improving broadband access in the state, most Iowa residents can access broadband Internet service, but the network speeds available vary. State officials noted that Iowa ranks 11th out of 12 Midwestern states in the TechNet State Broadband Index. The index ranks states looking at household broadband adoption rates, network speeds available and the number of jobs that benefit from broadband technology.
Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said the administration wanted to improve Internet options in rural parts of the state.
"We need to make sure that rural Iowa has the tools to stay connected because connectivity is a great equalizer," Reynolds said. "Connectivity will allow us to grow and preserve rural Iowa while keeping us competitive."
Branstad has asked an existing committee that works on broadband access to provide him with recommendations on how to build out broadband infrastructure and also to create a long-term plan for the state. He also wants the group to seek federal funding opportunities or public-private partnerships.
The first set of recommendations — on building the broadband network — are due by Dec. 1 to provide time to draft legislation that could be considered during the 2014 legislative session.
This effort to improve broadband access follows a similar push by the previous governor, Chet Culver. The initiative comes as rural Iowa continues to lose population. The latest census data shows nearly two-thirds of Iowa's counties lost population between 2011 and 2012, even as the state showed a slight population increase. Much of that population loss came in rural parts of the state, while the counties with bigger cities saw gains.
Branstad said that getting high-speed Internet access to even the most remote parts of the state was vital. He did not have a projection on what financial resources the state may provide for such an effort.
"This is electricity of the future. This is going to be critically important to economic progress and we want to make sure we don't have people left out," Branstad said.