Iowa House approves bills to facilitate broadband, cryptocurrency – The Gazette


DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers, who said they were looking to the future in approving bills to expand broadband connectivity and permit the use of technology that could facilitate the use of cryptocurrency, engaged in 23rd century philosophy in discussion of another.

The Iowa House unanimously approved House File 848 to make broadband more available in more areas, especially underserved ones, and Senate File 541 to permit the use of distributed ledger technology and smart contracts.

Representatives reached deep into the future for guidance on HF 822, which would add reporting requirements for local governments about their Statehouse lobbying efforts. Iowa law already requires local governments associations — the Iowa State Association of Counties, the League of Cities and the Iowa Association of School Boards — be audited annually. HF 822 would require the audit to reflect the amount of compensation for Statehouse lobbyists and the time spent lobbying.

Like most other local government records, contracts with and reimbursement for lobbyists will be public records under the bill.

“A difference which makes no difference is no difference,” said Rep. Ross Wilburn, D-Ames, a former Iowa City mayor, citing a phrase coined by philosopher Alfred Korzybski that was quoted in “Star Trek,” which is set in 2255.

Since nearly everything in the bill already is in Iowa Code, “I’m trying to see what difference this bill will make,” Wilburn said.

Bill manager Rep. Jon Jacobsen, R-Council Bluffs, replied in kind, quoting “Star Trek” character Spock that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

“This bill is built to address the needs of the 3.5 million Iowans as opposed the needs of the few and, occasionally, the one in the lobby,” he said.

Continuing in the “Star Trek” vein, Jacobsen said that in his five years in the House, his “mission has been to explore government operations to seek out new data and new information to boldly go where no oversight has gone before in my trek for transparency.”

It was approved 91-3, with Democratic Reps. Dave Jacoby of Coralville, Kirsten Running-Marquardt of Cedar Rapids and Chuck Isenhart of Dubuque voting “no.”

HF 848 calls for Empower Rural Iowa grants to be made to communication services that install infrastructure to facilitate a minimum download speed of 100 megabits per second and a minimum upload speed of 100 megabits per second in area where those services at the level described in the bill are not available.

At least 20 percent of the amount of the grants awarded must be allocated to projects in difficult to serve areas where no service is available at the specified upload and download speeds.

The bill had broad support from cities and economic development groups, groups representing schools, municipal utilities, telecommunications, business interests and local governments. Although there were many “undecided” interest groups, no one was registered in opposition to HF 848.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has asked for $450 million over three years to build out Iowa’s broadband infrastructure. About a third of Iowa’s 99 counties still are broadband deserts where high-speed internet is rarely offered and, for many Iowans, unaffordable, she said. Iowa also has the second-lowest broadband speeds in the country.

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Lawmakers plan to provide the funding for the grants in a separate bill.

SF 541 would facilitate electronic transactions, giving legal recognition to electronic records, signatures and contracts. It would permit the use of “distributed ledger technology,” sometimes referred to as blockchain technology, to provide an electronic record of transactions uniformly and redundantly maintained by one or more computers to guarantee the consistency of transactions.

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That prompted Rep. Steve Hansen, D-Sioux City, to suggest the bill would regulate cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin. Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Birmingham, described it as more of a definition than a regulation, adding that he believes Bitcoin would be included in that definition.

Hansen noted there is widespread concern with cryptocurrency, including tax avoidance and fraud. He predicted the Legislature would have to revisit the topic.

Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, who works in the technology industry, called the bill “a great bill to take Iowa forward.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com



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