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Unleashing Rural Potential with High-Speed Broadband

Posted January 30, 2024
Sharon Telephone Company

Broadband expansion is key to our rural development strategy at Greater Iowa City, Inc. (Greater IC). High speed broadband impacts rural development on multiple levels, all directly influencing an area’s capacity for growth and a high quality of life. First, accessible high-speed internet gives residents access to telehealth services, online education, and remote work. This makes rural areas competitive for talent attraction to people seeking a low cost of living, small communities, beautiful scenery, and other rural advantages. A consistent or growing population size supports the local produce growers and mom-and-pop shops. These small businesses not only benefit from consistent or increased foot traffic but also the ability to promote their services online and diversify their sales channels. Selling online keeps their doors open to their local community.

 

Beyond the benefit to small rural businesses, large organizations and surrounding communities are also impacted by rural access to high-speed broadband. Interstate commerce business operators reported significant challenges and delays during the Covid-19 Pandemic due to remote employees lacking access to high-speed internet. Additionally, business attraction opportunities are lost or slowed when the proposed rural site does not have access to broadband. Finally, farmers rely on high-speed internet to properly use the most innovative farming equipment and stay updated on advances in the industry. People and businesses at every level benefit from rural areas having high-speed broadband.

 

Along with Greater IC, Johnson County continues to tackle this challenge. Johnson County’s efforts to support broadband stem from the goals of the 2022 Johnson County Economic Development Plan for the Unincorporated Area, Villages and Smaller Towns and the state’s Digital Equity Plan. In May 2023, the County earned Broadband Intervention Zone status for three areas. The designations helped local providers win competitive grants in November 2023 from the State Office of the Chief Information Office (OCIO). Liberty Communications was awarded nearly $2 million for expansion in the rural area between Iowa City and West Branch.

 

Additionally, Sharon Telephone Company received $1.8 million for a rural area near Kansas Avenue to the southwest of Iowa City and areas between Hills and Lone Tree. Since 2020, Sharon Telephone Company has invested a total of $13.5 million to provide fiber internet to rural Johnson County. $8.8 million has been funded by the company and the remaining by various grants.  Due to this, they were able to provide 1 Gig capable fiber internet service to 950 rural Johnson County residents.  They have built fiber to 1600 total locations. 500 of those are part of a new build which will be ready for customer installations in the spring of 2024.  They plan to build an additional 220 rural locations in Johnson County in 2024.

 

At Greater IC, we continue to support and report on broadband progress from our local providers and the county. Learn more about our rural development strategy and progress to get involved.