Committing to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, Amy Klobuchar flaunts tech expertise in Iowa rural broadband talks

Shelby Fleig
The Des Moines Register
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STANTON, Ia. — The day after releasing a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, the first policy proposal of her campaign for president, Sen. Amy Klobuchar traveled to southwest Iowa, where historic flooding crumbled roads and levees this month.

Friday afternoon in Stanton, a town of 700 settled by Swedish immigrants and dotted with "velkommen" signs, the Minnesota senator led an informal panel of local business leaders at the Farmers Mutual Telephone Company. After a tour of the facilities, she said her goal is to connect every American household to internet by 2022.

"To bridge the rural-urban divide, you have to be able to email someone," Klobuchar, a Democrat, said. "I'm still astounded that one out of four rural families doesn't have internet. ... Yet the whole country of Iceland is hooked up. I truly believe we can do this across the nation by 2022 — we just have to put some funding into it." 

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, talks to Pottawattamie County emergency management director Doug Reed on Friday, March 29, 2019, in Council Bluffs during a campaign stop in which she touted her plan for infrastructure.

Klobuchar laid out her first major policy plan in a Medium post Thursday. In it, she called for a corporate tax rate of 25 percent to help pay for initiatives including expanding public transit, repairing roads and bridges, and increasing access to clean water. 

To pay for the plan, Klobuchar proposed a $650 billion increase in federal spending, as well as allocating $25 billion in seed money to attract "$250 to $300 billion in direct loans, loan guarantees, and other forms of credit enhancement."

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Over a lunch of Casey's pizza and coffee, Klobuchar asked detailed questions of the panelists on the challenges of making the internet accessible. Klobuchar sits on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, tasked with improving the country's telecommunications.

"She definitely understands this stuff," said Shawnna Silvius, the executive director of Montgomery County Development Corporation. "And that's what it'll take to get it done." Silvius said Klobuchar's plan to fund the initiative sounds realistic and "exciting."

Kevin Cabbage, the Farmers Mutual Telephone Company's general manager, said his company provides high-speed fiber optic internet to five towns, including Stanton, and has built out access to five others as it works to reach the rural areas between. Internet provided by Mediacom, CenturyLink and Windstream is highly unreliable in the area, the panelists repeatedly said, which hurts population retention rates. 

To expand access to all of Montgomery County, he said the company needs more funding. 

Klobuchar agreed.

"If you don't provide an an equal playing field for access for small businesses to come up with the next good idea, it really puts a total advantage on bigger businesses ... and that creates more and more monopolies," she said.

A day after releasing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, Sen. Amy Klobuchar listened to local leaders in Stanton, Iowa, who support her plan to connect every American home to internet by 2022.

After the panel, Klobuchar headed to Omaha to talk with labor leaders about renewable energy and weatherization efforts.

Klobuchar is focused on infrastructure because it's a "bread and butter issue," she told reporters in Stanton. "This issue to me is so frustrating because it's actually doable and it's just been a bunch of rhetoric.

"People in this country are tired of the chaos, they're tired of all the talk, and they're ready for someone who's going to seize on this opportunity to get things done."

Later in Pacific Junction, homeowners and parents Fran and Jason Parr greeted Klobuchar on the side of the road to share their story. While the water is receding about 8 inches each day, they haven't been able to get to their house since evacuating two weeks ago. 

The Parrs' home was built around 1920, old enough to have horse hair in its plaster walls. Two and a half miles east of the Missouri River, it's likely a total loss, they said. Without much warning, they grabbed what they could and took their 4-year-old identical twins to safety.

After thanking Klobuchar for visiting, taking off her thick glove to shake the senator's hand, Fran joked that, "We've each got our own battles this year, huh?" 

"That's for sure," Klobuchar replied. "If you can handle this, I can handle that."

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