- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 5, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa Senate panel will propose changes to Gov. Terry Branstad’s broadband expansion bill to ensure it clearly focuses on areas of the state with no high-speed Internet, the panel’s chairwoman said Tuesday.

Sen. Janet Petersen said the bill needs work following the Senate Ways and Means subcommittee’s meeting. The Des Moines Democrat was particularly critical of a grant program that was stripped of $5 million in state dollars earlier in the session. The program, which will now be funded through private and federal money, is supposed to help service providers with the often-costly process of adding broadband infrastructure.

“I don’t see this bill moving without an amendment,” Petersen said. She then added: “I guess I’m interested to see, is this really going to help us connect Iowans? I want to spend some more time with (the bill).”

Jake Ketzner, a spokesman for Branstad’s office, recommended during the meeting that the bill advance without changes. Iowa Chief Information Officer Robert von Wolffradt also expressed support for the bill, and noted it would help identify his office as a focal point in advancing the technology.

Von Wolffradt said there are some “important pieces” in the legislation “regardless of whether there are funds attached.”

But Petersen, along with Democratic Sen. Matt McCoy of Des Moines, shared some of their reservations. Both said they wanted to make sure the legislation’s property tax relief program focuses on areas of the state with no high-speed Internet. At least 20,000 households in Iowa have no broadband, according to data from Connect Iowa, an organization that works with communities across the state to expand service.

The three-member Senate panel took no action on the bill, which passed in the House last month. Petersen said the subcommittee will meet again before deciding whether to advance the bill to a full committee.

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