Axne talks rural broadband during Adel roundtable

Andrew Brown - Reporter
U.S. Congresswoman and City of Adel Mayor Jim Peters discuss rural broadband on Tuesday, June 23 inside Patricks Restaurant in Adel. PHOTO BY ANDREW BROWN/DALLAS COUNTY NEWS

U.S. Congresswoman Cindy Axne was in Adel Tuesday, June 23 to discuss thoughts behind the Rural Broadband Task Force Legislation in a roundtable setting. The Rural Broadband Task Force Legislation is looking at three big pillars including investment in internet infrastructure, to ensure internet affordability and the enabling of internet adoption. That includes investing $80 billion over five years to deploy resilient broadband infrastructure and providing over $1 billion to establish the State Digital Equity Capacity program, an annual grant program for states to create and implement comprehensive digital equity plans.

The roundtable discussion took place within the confines of Patricks Restaurant and included various community members including Adel Mayor Jim Peters, Adel Partners Chamber of Commerce President Deb Bengtson, ADM Community Schools Superintendent Greg Dufoe and Director of Technologies Chad Freichs, ISU Extension and Outreach Region 15 director Ann Torbert, Ryan Moon of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, and members from the Dallas County Veterans Affairs. The roundtable centered around getting more broadband access to rural Iowa and the various challenges that Iowans have faced with the lack of adequate internet access to rural locations.

“A lot of what we’re talking about (post-COVID-19) is reliant upon good connectivity,” said Axne. “We’ve seen an increase in some people working from home as we’ve seen a shift in some of our businesses doing more online than what they’re used to. There are a lot of issues we have to address.”

Among those issues to address, Axne mentioned a focus on telehealth, education and small businesses among others. Axne said that the issue of connectivity reaches not just across Iowa, but has effects that impact the nation as a whole.

“We know how important all the issues are to address,” began Axne. “If we don’t provide that opportunity with connectivity, we’re going to continue to increase that divide between those who have connectivity and those who don’t. This is our opportunity to address issues like connectivity for towns like Adel and surrounding Dallas County.”

In terms of the small businesses and connectivity in Adel, Bengtson talked about the internet speed and service as significant factors.

“Our brick and mortar businesses, their concern is speed,” said Bengtson. “We also have a tremendous amount of home-based businesses and when you get into the residential areas (speed) is spotty.”

Bengtson referenced Country Lane Lodge who hasn’t been able to book big conferences due to lack of internet to host. She also mentioned a lot of options for businesses in Adel are cost prohibited. That also brought up the issue of connectivity service that has also been a thorn in the side of many small businesses and communities.

“We’ve got vendors who come in, say they’re servicing an area but not really servicing an area,” said Axne. “What they’re doing is holding other people captive and not being able to get the services that they need. This (bill) is meant to address exactly that because this is unacceptable. That mapping isn’t correct and the cost is too prohibitive.”

Axne also mentioned that the bill promotes competition and gives preference and awards funding for broadband builds that will provide open access to new infrastructure to allow additional providers to provide more options to consumers.

“This is the electrification of today,” said Axne. “It shouldn’t be that somebody in Adel pays three-times the amount of someone in Des Moines for the same services.”

Another important issue that was talked about was how connectivity has and will continue to impact the school system. It starts, as Freichs talked about, with understanding the simple definition of broadband.

“The definition of broadband is too wide,” began Freichs. “It’s used very loosely and slower speeds fit the definition of broadband but aren’t really adequate for much of anything. The speed of connection is important. Providers that call 2.4-megabyte connection broadband is not really useful into today’s internet and our teachers and students found the same.”

Dufoe and Freichs also talked about data caps being a sensitive topic as well. Mayor Peters expanded on that and mentioned that Adel has a variety of different user types with different levels of demand for internet.

“People aren’t going to go to where they need to go because there’s just not enough payback for them right now,” said Peters. “It’s been tough competing with the (Des Moines) metro for those types of services.”

Axne went on to say that the bill will look to improve upon the service aspect, bringing more competition and bringing more options to the table for residents regardless of their location. She also talked about bridging the gap between those locations who need a fiber connection and those locations that could

“At the federal level, we’re looking at other avenues other than what the FCC says there are out there,” Axne said. “We’ve got to make sure we have correct maps. There are a lot of things we can do to fill a cap and maybe even permanently.”

Axne added that she feels the bill will pass through the House of Representatives next week but that the challenge might come in the Senate.