Can You Hear Me Now?

Democrat rents farmland to telecom, sponsors legislation favorable to that telecom

Leonard Boswell / Wikimedia Commons
• August 3, 2012 5:00 am


An Iowa Democratic House member has raked in more than $50,000 since 2002 for hosting a cell phone tower on his property, while sponsoring a number of bills designed to boost rural telecommunications.

Rep. Leonard Boswell (D., Iowa) rents out a small portion of his farmland to Chat Mobility, a telecommunications company that provides cellular coverage to rural communities in southwest Iowa. Since 2002, he has made about $5,000 per year renting out the space for a cell phone tower operated by Chat Mobility, formerly known as Lyrix Wireless, according to his financial disclosure filings.

He signed the contract with the company shortly after he cosponsored the Rural Telecommunications Enhancement Act of 2001, which would have allowed the Department of Agriculture to make loan guarantees and provide subsidies to telecommunication firms that enhance cellular service in rural environments.

That bill died in committee, but Boswell has been a reliable advocate for helping telecommunications companies looking to expand to rural areas. In 2009, he voted in favor of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which allocated more than $7 billion to rural telecommunications, Internet, and cellular expansion.

Boswell did not return calls or emails requesting comment.

Boswell has ramped up his efforts on behalf of rural telecommunications in recent years, as his contract with Chat Mobility, which he continues to itemize as Lyrix on his disclosure forms, grows in size. In 2010 and 2012, the rental agreement earned Boswell between $5,000 and $15,000, a steep increase from the $2,500 to $5,000 he earned between 2003 and 2009.

Chat Mobility officials did not respond to calls or emails for comment.

In 2009 and 2011, Boswell cosponsored three pieces of legislation that would have helped subsidize or give tax breaks to companies with telecommunications operations and ventures in rural areas.

In 2011, he co-sponsored the Wireless Tax Fairness Act, which prevents local and state governments from creating taxes that target wireless technology. The national average for those taxes is more than 16.3 percent. The Act reached the Senate floor in July.

Boswell has had less success in other efforts to cut breaks for telecom companies. A 2009 tax break aimed at the Telephone Excise tax died in committee. In 2011, his attempt to create a National Infrastructure Development Bank, which would create a government-run lending service that would help finance, among other infrastructure services, cellular and broadband expansion into rural areas, stalled in committee.