- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Service providers planning to expand high-speed Internet in Iowa through infrastructure work will be able to seek a 10-year property tax exemption under a broadband bill passed Tuesday by the House, though some lawmakers say the legislation still needs work.

The House voted 89-5 in support of the bill, which was introduced by Gov. Terry Branstad’s office. It would create a property tax relief program to help service providers with the cost of adding infrastructure for broadband, also known as high-speed Internet.

Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, led the bill on the floor and called it a good step in expanding broadband.

“Simply put, the Internet is a way of life for Iowans, and for Iowa to reach its full potential, we need better connectivity to it,” he said.

Rep. Jo Oldson, D-Des Moines, said she would support the bill Tuesday but wanted to see some changes as it advances in the Senate.

She suggested tightening the language over what merits an exemption. “So that we truly are focused on making sure that we are providing incentives to get broadband out to areas that have no broadband whatsoever,” she said.

A grant program, which originally had $5 million in state money, was defunded earlier in the session over concerns about its sustainability. Federal and private dollars would fund the program instead, though there is no current money attached to it.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where Branstad’s bill was swapped earlier in the session for a similar measure proposed by Sen. Steven Sodders, D-State Center. Sodders has repeatedly indicated a willingness to work with Cownie to advance a broadband bill this session. A retroactive date to the property relief tax program was removed in an amendment Tuesday; Sodders supported such a change.

Branstad made broadband a priority in his Condition of the State address in January. The governor released a statement applauding the House vote.

A broadband bill failed last session over concern about tax incentives. This year’s bill is more limited.

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