The Iowa House has passed a bill that would set up a state-run grant program to expand broadband access in Iowa, although no state money is committed and the program will only get going if the state gets federal tax dollars for it. The bill would set up a new, 10-year-long property tax exemption for companies that extend high-speed broadband service in “unserved or underserved areas” of the state.

Representative Peter Cownie, a Republican from West Des Moines, has been trying for the past couple of years to craft some sort of state effort to expand broadband.

“I think this bill is a first step and a good step in the right direction,” Cownie said Tuesday during House debate of the plan. “…The internet is a way of life for Iowans and for Iowa to reach its full potential, we need better connectivity to it.”

Representative Jo Oldson, a Democrat from Des Moines, supported the bill, but hopes the property tax exemption can be tightened by the senate.

“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,” Oldson said.

Representative Dave Jacoby, a Democrat from Coralville, was among the overwhelming majority of House members who voted for the bill.

“Extending broadband to all reaches of the state is so important for our economic future,” Jacoby said.

The property tax break outlined in the bill would only be for expanded broadband service that is fast enough to deliver HD quality video and for conducting “telemedicine” activities. Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage, said the bill will hopefully address the “inconsistencies” in broadband speeds.

“I live in a part of Mitchell County where I actually get better connectivity to my barn than I get here at the state capitol,” Byrnes said.

Legislators wrestled with this same issue last year, but failed to pass a bill.