Guest Opinion: Connecting All Iowans

Submitted by Brian Waller, president of Technology Association of Iowa, and Dave Duncan, CEO of Iowa Communications Alliance

The pandemic has proved to be a catalyst for decades’ worth of transformation in a matter of months, not the least of which is how we all connect with one another on a day-to-day basis. Prior to 2020 most Iowans were regular internet users, but never could have imagined the sudden transition so many experienced when nearly every aspect of daily life moved online, from work and school to ordering groceries and visiting doctors.

Connectivity has gone from a convenience relied upon by many to an essential service, much like electricity and water. This change led to significant state and federal funding being allocated to areas of the state deemed unserved or underserved. Unserved or underserved often meant areas that are geographically difficult or cost-prohibitive to build out to. However, recognizing the importance of building future-proof networks that offer truly high-speed internet, last year policymakers at the state and federal levels increased buildout standards to 100 megabits upload and download to better serve all Iowans. 

In many parts of our state, improved connectivity means Iowans are now able to live and work remotely from anywhere. This also means increased stability for many rural communities and greater opportunity to attract new residents. For residents in rural communities, improved connectivity along with the shift to online education and work has opened the door to opportunities that otherwise may not have existed. Since January of 2020 community-based broadband providers have connected 79 new Iowa communities with ultra-fast fiber networks and begun construction in 68 more, bringing the statewide total to more than 860 communities.

Every Iowa company is a technology company, and connecting all Iowans is good for Iowa businesses as well. The talent pool for Iowa companies expands with each new broadband connection, as companies no longer must require candidates to relocate to their headquarters, often located in metropolitan centers. With fast, reliable connections, employers are better able to connect with remote team members, able to see and interact on video, allowing for more engaging experiences for both employers and employees.

While great progress in connecting all Iowans has been made, the demand for quality high-speed internet access will only grow as technology advances. For Iowa to remain the top technology state in the Midwest, investment in broadband infrastructure must continue, allowing Iowans access to the unlimited opportunity of the innovation economy.