BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – A $5.5 million expansion of broadband fiber optics in rural Lee County targeting low and no service areas was awarded $3.55 million in state funding Tuesday.
The grant was awarded to Danville Telecom for a project to bring a new fiber optic backbone up the west side of the county and across the Hwy. 16 to Hwy. 61. The money comes from the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant program.
The Lee County Board of Supervisors last week approved appropriating 30% of it’s America Rescue Plan Act funding to the project which amounted to $1.95 million. The two grants together will cover the cost of the infrastructure upgrade.
The award was one of just 39 that were part of $97.5 million in state grants announced on Tuesday.
However, according to the state’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, which handled the 178 grant applications, close to $300 million in assistance was requested through the grant program. Due to overwhelming response to the program another opportunity, using APRA federal funds is being planned for the near future.
“Expanding broadband across our state continues to be a top priority,” said Gov. Reynolds. “It is clear by the shear volume and scope of applications that the need is there. Today’s award announcement will go a long way toward meeting that need, and we won’t stop here.”
Due to the overwhelming amount of interest and success of this program, the State of Iowa will expedite a new grant opportunity utilizing ARPA federal funds to build upon the $100 million in state funding for this grant program. Details on this new grant opportunity will be released in the near future.
Mike Norris, executive director of Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission, serves as administrator for the Southeast Iowa Economic and Regional Port Authority. The port authority applied for the county assistance to help secure the state grant.
Norris told supervisors last week that construction could begin on the new line within 12 to 18 months with service being available within two years.
Danville Telecom also received a $1.67 million grant for a similar project in the New London/Lowell area with funding assistance from Des Moines and Henry County. The $1.67 million is 50% of the cost of the project.