As Iowa invests millions into rural broadband, Washington Co. family calls upgraded speeds ‘a game-changer’

Their upgraded connection is the result of the state’s investment of millions of dollars into rural broadband.
Published: Mar. 29, 2021 at 10:28 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG) - “Like Christmas Day all over again.”

That’s how Matthew Hartman, who lives in rural Washington County, described the recent installation of fiber optics at his home.

“The kids, that’s all they wanted for Christmas was high-speed internet,” Hartman said.

Their upgraded connection is the result of the state’s investment of millions of dollars into rural broadband.

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced during her Condition of the State address in January that Iowa would allocate $450 million to expand high-speed internet, especially in rural areas. Kalona Cooperative Technology Company in Washington County has received more than $2 million in state grants toward that goal over the last several months, some of that money coming from Iowa’s federal CARES Act funding.

“If we wouldn’t have gotten those grants, we wouldn’t have connected them,” Casey Peck, KCTC’s general manager and CFO, said. “When you’re building fiber to the home, the construction cost is just outlandish.”

Peck said there aren’t enough customers in rural areas to offset those expensive costs, making the state’s investment needed for companies like KCTC to install fiber in rural areas.

Meanwhile, the people who live in those areas were desperate for faster speeds, according to Peck.

“There was a gal that had written a letter for us in support of us bringing fiber to her, and she said she almost lost her job because of it because she was working from home and she couldn’t work from home because she couldn’t get the speeds that she needed,” she said.

The grant money KCTC has received from the state will allow it to build out fiber at around 500 homes, expanding its current customer base of about 2,600 customers.

As of last month, Hartman has been among them.

“It was a struggle out here, and then just the size of our community, there were some other services that would go into town, but they wouldn’t come out here because it wasn’t profitable for them,” Hartman said.

Hartman has worked from home for nearly two decades for his sales job. His wife is working remotely, too, and for a period, their four children were also learning virtually.

“The last half of last year, of 2020, was a challenge,” he said. “We had to use regular internet because we didn’t have high-speed internet at that point, and even watching YouTube videos of a teacher teaching our eight-year-old, it was a struggle.”

Now, he said the upgraded speeds have been “a game-changer” for their lives.

“Having services like Hulu and Netflix, now there’s no buffering. You can actually watch a show in 30 minutes because that’s what they said, instead of an hour,” Hartman said.

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