Iowa clears $149M in broadband grants to Mediacom, rural ISPs

The state of Iowa this week announced the winners for the latest round of its Empower Rural Broadband Grant Program, dishing out $149 million to cover around 12,600 locations.

Ninety-one applications in total were submitted to the Iowa Department of Management, but only 39 projects received grants. The money came from Iowa’s Capital Projects Fund (CPF) allocation.

The biggest grant winners were Citizens Mutual Telephone Cooperative ($20.5 million), Mediacom ($19.2 million) and Mediapolis Telephone Company ($17.3 million). Many of the other providers on the list are rural cooperatives and local ISPs.

For Mediacom’s part, it’s undertaken a number of rural fiber builds in Iowa. Earlier this month, it announced it completed fiber projects in 12 communities through its partnership with the Empower Iowa program.

With this latest funding round, Mediacom will construct a fiber network covering 1,829 locations in Mahaska County.

According to the state’s Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), grant-funded projects must provide last-mile broadband service that reliably meets or exceeds symmetrical 100 Mbps broadband.

If a provider can’t meet that threshold due to cost or an area’s topography, then they must build a network that meets or exceeds 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream. However, 100/20 broadband projects must scale to 100/100 service within three years of the project’s completion date.

For this round, Iowa prioritized applicants that agreed to build broadband to at least 80% of eligible service locations within a Broadband Intervention Zone. The zones are areas Iowan communities identified as those in “critical need for broadband investment.”

The state has identified 96 of these zones – areas the NOFA states “perpetually go unserved for a variety of reasons.”

A map detailing the grant awards indicates many of the projects focus on the southern part of Iowa, and some are concentrated in the northwest part of the state near Sioux City – where Cable One’s Sparklight is pursuing a $12 million network upgrade.