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STUDY SHOWS 22% OF IOWANS LACK HIGH INTERNET SPEED
Cedar Rapids (IA) Gazette reports:

Roughly 1 in 5 Iowans do not have access to the broadband internet speed recommended by the federal government, and those who are underserved mostly live in rural areas.

In addition to the luxuries afforded by broadband internet - streaming movies and music and playing online games - access to broadband also can be important for education and health care, industry experts say.

Because private internet providers must weigh the profitability of introducing broadband internet to any area, some state and federal lawmakers have in recent years worked on programs - such as tax relief incentives - that aim to encourage broadband expansion.

Home broadband use in Iowa rose 10 percent from 2010 to 2013, according to Connect Iowa, a state program designed to foster its expansion.

Despite that progress and more since, 22 percent of Iowa residents in 2015 did not have access to broadband internet download speeds of 25 megabytes per second - the one recommended by the Federal Communications Commission, according to Connect Iowa.

"All the progress we've made the past few years, we want to keep that moving," said David Daack, community technology adviser for Connect Iowa.

A dozen Iowa counties had less than 40 percent of their residents with access to 25 mbps broadband internet in 2015, the most recent data available to Connect Iowa. Of those 12 counties, 10 are among the bottom half in terms of population.

Most schools have the broadband speeds they need to properly educate students with current internet-based technology. But if a town does not have sufficient speeds, students may have difficulty using internet-based learning at home.

"You run into a disparity where the educational community could have solid broadband at their school, to where they're running virtual (education programs) at their school, but when (students) are going home, they don't have enough bandwidth to continue their work," said Ric Lumbard, executive director of the Iowa Communications Network, the state's broadband carrier network.

A critical challenge to expanding broadband internet to rural or sparsely populated areas is that private telecommunications companies determine it would not be profitable to offer the service there.

Access to high-speed broadband also can be crucial for small businesses. The Iowa Association of Business and Industry, which advocates on behalf of Iowa businesses, has among its formal positions support for access to broadband internet and programs that promote expansion.

"This will enable continuous, uninterrupted access to a host of services all contributing to a vibrant business community and quality of life for Iowans," the organization's position states. "It is critical to economic growth that all areas of the state have access to broadband."

Installing broadband infrastructure is an expensive undertaking, Lumbard said. Telecommunications companies must weight a significant investment of resources against how many people live in an area and whether a sufficient number of residents will pay for the service.

"It's not true that if you build it, they will come," Lumbard said, referring to the famous line from the movie "Field of Dreams." "To the private telecom providers, that requires them to put high-dollar investments in areas that there's not high human density. ... At the end of the day, it's basic math."

Lumbard said methods to foster broadband expansion include program partnerships between government and private industry and tax relief programs that encourage companies to install broadband infrastructure.

"Availability is a major piece," Lumbard said. "There has to be other incentives to drive availability."

Iowa has an incentive program that exempts telecommunications companies from paying property taxes for 10 years on broadband infrastructure built in underserved areas. The program reduced Iowa's taxable value of telecommunications property by $260 million, $515 million and $479 million in the past three fiscal years respectively, according to an analysis by the state's nonpartisan fiscal estimating agency.

There are two federal programs that direct money to broadband expansion projects, according to a December 2016 congressional report.

U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City, signed a letter with dozens of other congressional members asking President Donald Trump to include broadband expansion in his national infrastructure plan.

Loebsack serves on the U.S. House's Energy and Commerce Committee, including a subcommittee that has oversight of broadband issues. He also serves as co-chair of the House Rural Broadband Caucus, a group of Democrats and Republicans that works to improve broadband access in rural areas.

"I have hosted roundtables in all 24 counties of my district to discuss expanding broadband access, especially in rural areas," he said in a statement. "And without fail, at every stop I heard from Iowans about how important broadband access is, but also how difficult it can be to get."

Guide to INTERNET download speeds:

1-4 Mbps:
Generally, this is the lowest level of service available in most areas. Email and most websites will load and many music streaming services will work without interruption. Internet phone services should have no trouble, but videos might lag because of buffering issues.

4-6 Mbps: Service at this speed will allow some file sharing and should work fine for streaming internet TV.

6-10 Mbps: For online games and video-on-demand services, this is the preferred minimum speed for a single device.

15-50 Mbps: If you have several devices connected to your network and want to use them at the same time without delays, this may be the speed you will need.

50+ Mbps: This speed supports networks with several high-bandwidth devices operating at the same time.


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