- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Legislation aimed at expanding high-speed Internet in Iowa took another step forward with a House committee’s overwhelming approval on Thursday, though lawmakers agree there will be some changes to the bill.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously for the bill, which would create a 10-year property tax relief program for service providers adding infrastructure for broadband, also known as high-speed Internet.

Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, who is overseeing the bill, said after the meeting that he expects some changes as he tries to align it with a separate bill in the Senate led by Sen. Steven Sodders, D-State Center.

“There’s more that we agree on than not,” Cownie said.

About 74 percent of Iowa households - roughly 913,000 - have high-speed Internet with a download speed that aligns with a new recommendation by the Federal Communications Commission, according to Connect Iowa, an organization with federal support that is working with communities across the state to expand service.

About 74 percent of Iowa households - roughly 913,000 - have high-speed Internet with a downloand speed that aligns with a new recommendation by the Federal Communications Commission, according to Connect Iowa, an organization with federal support that is working to expand service.

Among those potential changes is the number of years available for relief in the property tax program. There’s also talk of altering retroactive language to that same program, which currently would allow a service provider with a broadband project to receive a tax exemption if the project began on or after July 2014.

“Cities and counties, they’ve already done their budgets, they’ve spent their money,” said Sodders. “To have them now come back and say … ‘Oh by the way, you’re going to lose this much more money,’ that’s not fair to cities and counties.”

Another potential change is language defining broadband. The House bill specifies rates of speed and how they should be measured. Sodders’ bill omits such rates and instead emphasizes the use of a fiber-optic network to expand broadband. Such a network, which usually involves underground cables, is capable of higher speeds.

Cownie and Sodders said they plan to work together to align the bills. The House legislation was introduced by Gov. Terry Branstad, who has made broadband expansion a priority for the session. A similar initiative failed last year.

The legislation would also create a grant program to help service providers with infrastructure costs. It hit a roadblock earlier in the session after some lawmakers expressed concern about the sustainability of a $5 million appropriation with state dollars. The state funds were stripped, and the grant program is expected to be funded through federal and private money.

Cownie acknowledged that changes to the grant program had made it a “simplified bill,” but he remained positive that it was a good start to Iowa’s efforts on broadband expansion.

The bill now heads to the House, where Cownie said he expects it to pass.

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