Iowa Lt. Governor Adam Gregg visits Allamakee Clayton EC to discuss fiber optics, rural connectivity

Iowa Lt. Governor Adam Gregg visits Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative ... Iowa Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg addresses a crowd of Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative employees and local government and economic development leaders during his Wednesday afternoon, July 21 visit to the Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative facility near Postville. Lt. Governor Gregg heard updates on ongoing fiber optic network projects within Allamakee County, along with future plans to address improved rural connectivity. He also talked about the State of Iowa’s commitment to helping rural Iowa succeed through increased State funding in regard to broadband connectivity. Standard photo by Joe Moses.

by Joe Moses

Iowa’s Lt. Governor Adam Gregg met with representatives of Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative (ACEC), the City of Waukon and contractors involved in fiber optic installation projects during a meeting at the ACEC facility in Postville Wednesday, July 21 as part of a discussion and update relating to broadband and fiber optic cable installation projects in Allamakee County.

Gregg provided an introduction for the discussion, noting that broadband connectivity is a priority for the State of Iowa and Governor Kim Reynolds. Gregg said that he has been honored to be part of these discussions in his role as Chairperson for the Empower Rural Iowa Task Force.

He emphasized that broadband connectivity is important for rural prosperity, with the COVID-19 pandemic further shining a light on the issue with many facets of life and the economy now relying on this connectivity. Gregg relayed that increased broadband connectivity was trending prior to the pandemic, with that need continuing to increase for businesses and the public.

Gregg acknowledged the work of  Executive Vice President/General Manager Hollee McCormick of ACEC, who serves on the Connecting Rural Iowa Task Force, part of the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa initiative, with McCormick being part of those fiber optic conversations that are taking place statewide.

Gregg advised that work continues relating to policy changes and encouraging additional State funding for broadband improvements. A total of $5 million in State funding last year for broadband was discussed by Gregg as an important step, with Governor Reynolds pushing for even greater investment in these needed improvements with $100 million in State funding being approved in addition to the Federal funding that is available.

Gregg said that this means Iowa will be seeing greater connectivity across the state through the efforts of key partners like ACEC. He suggested that improved connectivity is a key aspect in keeping young people in rural Iowa.

McCormick provided an overview of ACEC’s history and operations, sharing that ACEC was founded in 1938 and currently has 2,500 miles of electric line reaching seven counties while primarily serving Allamakee, Clayton and Fayette Counties. McCormick added that ACEC has 10,000 electric meters, 1,100 internet customers and currently has 41 full-time employees.

McCormick discussed ongoing and prospective fiber optic projects, highlighting that since June 2020, over $5 million has been received in grant funding. She said that starting the week of August 1, the northern Allamakee County fiber optic installation will proceed involving 203 miles of fiber optic cable which will include 460 residences and 83 businesses.

Supply chain and staffing matters were discussed from a contractor perspective by Erich Gramm, owner of West Union Trenching, and Adam Ramseth, co-owner of R&S Fiber Optic Services.

McCormick provided an overview of the fiber optic installation slated for west Waukon to include 11.3 miles of fiber optic cable to affect 234 homes, 61 businesses and three schools. Prospective fiber optic installation projects and grant applications were discussed for the remaining portions of Waukon to be better served with improved broadband speeds, with that remaining portion including 798 homes, two schools and 494 businesses, some of which include combination residences and home-based businesses.

McCormick talked about internet speed estimates from another service provider in the Waukon area with a dispute process potentially allowing ACEC to move forward with fiber optic installation to aid in greater internet speeds for businesses and the public. Gregg further discussed the importance of targeting resources in areas where they are needed to reach the 100 Mbps upload and 100 Mbps download standard for broadband, building to the next generation level of connectivity. McCormick further discussed an application relating to the south portion of Allamakee County to include 239 miles of fiber optic cable covering 553 homes and 112 businesses.

Gramm questioned Gregg relating to whether in-state preference would be advisable to promote the use of contractors from Iowa. Gregg replied that a reciprocal preference block would create issues for contractors wishing to work in other states and that Iowa should be careful not to box-in its own companies.

In the context of public meetings and video-conferencing with consultants and contractors, Waukon City Manager Gary Boden discussed the purchase of audio/visual equipment for Waukon City Hall with some of this technology not able to be fully utilized until a fiber optic upgrade takes place. Boden further discussed the positive aspects of a fiber optic upgrade with businesses and Veterans Memorial Hospital to benefit. Gregg said that he understands that sentiment, with similar concerns coming from across the state, further commenting on the value and importance of broadband connectivity to business and city government.

Director Ardie Kuhse with Waukon Economic Development (WEDC) discussed the positive working relationship that ACEC has with the City of Waukon with the fiber optic planning being important for the community. Gregg discussed the role of rural telephone cooperatives in driving investment in small communities with broadband being an important strategic investment for the State of Iowa.

Following the meeting, Gregg shared some comments with The Standard relating to his visit to northeast Iowa. He said that he and Governor Reynolds travel to all 99 counties within Iowa each year to be accessible to Iowans. Gregg advised that earlier that day, he was in Decorah as part of a ribbon cutting ceremony for Alliant Energy’s solar energy battery storage project, which he described as being a beneficial technology in combination with other renewable energy sources, allowing for energy storage and deployment as needed. Gregg described this technology as game changing and an exciting investment that will better meet energy needs.

Gregg further discussed Wednesday’s meeting at ACEC as an opportunity to be briefed by McCormick, a member of the Empower Rural Iowa Task Force, relating to broadband connectivity in this area, projects currently in place and grants being applied for and those that have been received. Gregg said that feedback relating to the state program during this type of meeting is valuable and will be conveyed to Governor Reynolds.

Gregg also discussed his role as Lt. Governor with responsibilities relating to rural prosperity initiatives and that broadband connectivity supports those efforts. He described broadband connectivity as allowing businesses to operate at their highest capacity, allowing Iowans to participate in a modern economy and as an aspect that aids in recruiting young people to live and work in rural Iowa. As part of his visit to northeast Iowa, Gregg advised that he would next be traveling to Elkader to meet with representatives of “Attracting Success”, a program that attracts young professionals to the area and promotes career opportunities in rural Iowa.