Farmers Coop receives broadband grant worth $2.7 million

Dysart Rural Fiber Project soon to become a reality

A map illustrating the updated version of the Statewide Broadband Availability Map which was published on July 1, 2021 and used as a basis for awarding grants under the current funding round for the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program. Most of the rural areas surrounding Dysart have a blue-green Tier 2 designation which means minimum download speeds of between 25 and 50 Mbps are materially and meaningfully available.

Rural Dysart residents within the 476 telephone exchange received some good news this past week when it comes to broadband access in their area — $2,724,134.40 worth of good news.

In a September 14 press release, Governor Kim Reynolds announced the recipients of the latest Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program including Farmers Cooperative Telephone Company (FCTC) in Dysart.

Thirty-nine applications — out of 178 total — were approved in this latest round of funding which totals $97.5 million for broadband infrastructure in the state of Iowa.

FCTC was awarded just over $2.7 million amounting to just under 50 percent of the total infrastructure costs necessary to implement the $5.457 million Dysart Rural Fiber Project.

“The importance of broadband access impacts virtually every household in America,” FCTC General Manager Shelly Franzenburg said via email following news of the grant.

“Improving FCTC’s rural infrastructure will allow our patrons the ability to reliably use our service to work from home, distance learn, operate their farms and home-based businesses more efficiently in addition to their everyday internet use.”

Franzenburg said once this project is complete, FCTC is hopeful there will be additional funding opportunities available to build out the remainder of their territory.

The rural areas surrounding Dysart — including Clutier and east into Benton County — are currently considered a Targeted Service Area (TSA) for broadband access with a Tier 2 designation.

A Tier 2 designation means minimum download speeds between 25 and 50 megabits per second (Mbps) are materially and meaningfully available. Internet download speeds of 100 Mbps or more tend to be considered “fast” with the ability to handle multiple users at a time.

Under this round of Empower Rural Iowa funding, FCTC is given four years to complete the buildout of the Dysart Rural Fiber Project. Franzenburg indicated FCTC is aiming to have the project completed by March of 2025 and they have a hefty incentive to do so.

“The way this NOFA [Notice of Funding Availability] was structured is that awardees will fund the entire project themselves,” Franzenburg said. “Once the project is complete, we are able to submit for reimbursement. FCTC was only eligible to apply for a portion of the project cost, what the grant does not cover will be financed.”

In its grant application which was submitted in July of this year, FCTC indicated the project would more than likely not proceed without state funding: “The locations included in FCTC’s application would be too costly to build without grant funding assistance. Due to the rural nature and relatively low population density, this project would be difficult to justify without the financial assistance from the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grants Program.”

FCTC’s grant application further stated, “Access to high-speed broadband service should be available to every resident regardless of whether they live in town or out in the rural areas.”

A little less than one-third of the financing requested from the entire pool of broadband provider applicants was awarded in this funding round.

The governor’s press release indicated the State of Iowa plans to expedite another round of funding by utilizing American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal funds.

In March of this year, President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 into law which included $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local, and territorial/tribal governments.

The state of Iowa received around $1.4 billion total under the bill.

“Expanding broadband across our state continues to be a top priority,” Gov. Reynolds stated in her office’s September 14 press release. “It is clear by the shear [sic] volume and scope of applications that the need is there. Today’s award announcement will go a long way toward meeting that need, and we won’t stop here.”

Following news of the grant award, Franzenburg was eager for the future, particularly for FCTC’s rural customers.

“FCTC’s employees as well as our board are excited for the years to come,” Franzenburg said. “This is a large project to complete in a compressed time frame however we are up for the challenge!”

More on the grant and award announcement can be found here: