Rural Broadband Challenges and Opportunities

Delivering utility services to rural areas has always been a challenge.  From the efforts to electrify rural areas, then hook up telephones  in the early 1900s to the efforts to deliver “broadband for all” today, policymakers have made it a high priority to serve those who live in hard-to-serve, sparsely populated rural areas.

While there are many ways to receive broadband services, it is broadly recognized that fiber-optic networks hold the best “future-proof” t potential – its speeds are infinite, limited only by the equipment on either end.  But fiber is not always an option for a community or a region, and digital service lines (DSL), coaxial cable, cellular service, fixed wireless and other services can provide connectivity that can vary in speeds and effectiveness.

The Iowa Rural Development Council is prepared to leverage its members and partners to support rural communities seeking solutions to broadband availability and enhancement.

Resources and Partners

Across Iowa, there are more than 120 broadband internet providers, many of which are community-based  companies that operate as cooperatives or mutual stock companies. .  Several national and regional carriers offer internet service via cellular or satellite service.  In addition,  US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency (RD), the Federal Communications Commission and state agencies including Iowa Economic Development Authority and the Office of the Chief Information Office are all involved in promoting and incentivizing broadband expansion.

Despite the fact that hundreds of Iowa small towns are connected to gigabit fiber-optic service, too many Iowans remain unable to receive high-quality, affordable high-speed internet service.  The lack of connectivity  poses issues for small towns and remote areas for a main reason – the sparse populations often make the cost of extending services quite expensive.  It’s much more cost effective to serve a densely-populated urban area.  Communities struggling with broadband issues can look to those providers, to consultants, or to state and national associations that work in this space.  But any of these resources will be the first to say- rural broadband is neither easy nor cheap!

Case Studies and News Items

Sometimes the best solutions are just down the road.  Many rural Iowa communities are implementing innovative solutions to address their broadband needs.  Those case studies and best practices can be a roadmap for other communities – if they know where to look!

Iowa CIO Office Unveils New Broadband Maps

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, September 4, 2020 CONTACT: Gloria Van Rees, 515.782.3661 DES MOINES, Iowa —The Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) is excited to announce a new DRAFT 2020 broadband availability map of the State of Iowa has been published for public comment. The new map was created... Read More →

The Hill: A strong rural America starts with connectivity

Over the last several months, COVID-19 has changed our lives in a multitude of ways. Our routines were digitized almost overnight as business meetings transitioned to conference calls, classrooms became virtual meetings, and time spent with loved ones and friends became a luxury. While we all depend on broadband connectivity... Read More →

IRDC Launches New Website

The Iowa Rural Development Council is pleased to unveil its new website,  which was created by the talented team at Big Imprint, a West Liberty-based websites and marketing firm. “We are thrilled to have Ethan Anderson and the Big Imprint designers on our team,” said IRDC Chair Sandy Ehrig.  “We... Read More →

IRDC and IPR Partner for “Iowa in Focus” Series

IRDC has partnered with Iowa Public Radio for their Iowa In Focus series, centered around the state’s shifting population. This series, beginning August 26 and running through August 30, will take a look at some of the factors that affect whether a community grows or shrinks. Visit and follow... Read More →

Governor Signs ‘Empower Rural Iowa’ Bill

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds used the backdrop of the Wilton Candy Kitchen to sign legislation that provides state funds for rural housing and broadband. An article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette provides more information. Members of the ‘Empower Rural Iowa’ task force and the Iowa Rural Development Council joined Governor... Read More →