DES MOINES (AP) — It's unclear how effective an unfunded grant program in Gov. Terry Branstad's broadband bill will be, members of a House panel said Wednesday before approving the legislation and agreeing it was important to keep the issue moving forward this session.
A Ways and Means subcommittee discussed whether the grant program, which is aimed at helping service providers offer high-speed Internet, will be effective since it was stripped of $5 million in state money.
"I am concerned that we're talking about a grant program that isn't a grant program and I'm very concerned we're talking about a priority that's not a priority if we're not willing to invest $5 million," said Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville and a ranking member of the main committee.
Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, also expressed concern about how the revamped grant program, which will rely on federal and private dollars, would work. But he added that he supports the bill because it has components that keep broadband expansion efforts alive.
Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines and chairman of the Commerce Committee, has said the $5 million was removed because there was concern from other lawmakers about how sustainable the funding would be in a few years.
The bill, which includes a 10-year property tax relief program to help offset costs, is aimed at making it easier for service providers to expand broadband, he said.
"The premise of the bill is to get this started in Iowa," Cownie said. "We're kind of ... uncharted territory here in terms of providing a program for broadband access in unserved, underserved areas."
The bill now heads to the full Ways and Means Committee for review. A similar bill is being considered in the Senate, though it's unclear which piece of legislation could advance to Branstad's office. Cownie said he is working with lawmakers in the Senate to align the bills.