Iowa applicants applying for the USDA “ReConnect” Grant Program will have an advantage applying for the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced this week. The program, announced in December 2018, makes about $600 million in grants and loans available for broadband providers in rural areas that do not have sufficient access to broadband. The USDA awards applications up to 150 points for a number of criteria, but a signed letter by Gov. Reynolds will allow Iowa applicants an extra 20 scoring points on their USDA application, offering a greater chance of approval, Gov. Reynolds said. To complete an application for USDA ReConnect, applicants must submit a map showing the U.S. Census Blocks they propose providing service for (a map of areas that federal law designates as rural is available here). Applicants must provide broadband service to eligible areas with a population of 20,000 or fewer. The map will be certified and returned by the Office of the Chief Information Officer, with a letter from the governor (a sample letter by the governor’s office is available here).