Expanding broadband to the last mile

Before there was a 24 hour news cycle, millions across the heartland received information weekday mornings and mid-days by tuning their radio dial to the local ABC radio affiliate carrying Paul Harvey’s News and Comment.

In 2016, information flows much more rapidly, making reliable cable, internet and cell service a necessity to live, thrive and survive. Unfortunately for many residents in rural Indiana, that high speed broadband access, and in some cases cell service, is severely lacking.

Without reliable and affordable service, residents experience:

  • Internet connections that are weak, at best.
  • Slow upload and download speeds.
  • Sub-optimal GPS capability for personal use.
  • Poor phone connections that lead to garbled conversations or dropped calls.
  • Inability to upload agricultural big data.
  • Inability to use online farm management and data management tools.
  • Frequent inability to make or receive phone calls.
  • Frequent inability to send or receive text messages or emails.
  • Total inability to fully engage a smart TV.

Lack of reliable cell service is disturbing for farmers and their families who would be left with no means of communicating in the event of an emergency or even a simple business need.

Lack of reliable internet hampers farmers’ ability to receive commodity updates throughout the day. Those updates are critical to the bottom line because thousands of dollars can hinge on farmers knowing when markets are going up and when markets are going down at any point during a given day.

Lack of high speed internet bandwidth holds back the economy of rural communities and stymies the educational programming of rural schools. Businesses and institutions of higher education do not want move to or remain in communities that do not have high speed internet. Satellite internet is an option, but its expense and restrictive data caps are a deterrent to most.

As businesses leave town, hopes of opportunity, economic development and population increase often leave town as well.

The Nov. 21 issue of The Hoosier Farmer highlighted the struggles of Fowler, Indiana, located 30 minutes northwest of Purdue University. Students, faculty and visitors at the West Lafayette campus can call, text and email with perfect ease. Just a stone’s throw away in the Benton County seat, residents are left behind as the availability or reliability of those same services is frustratingly less consistent.

Benton County is not an isolated incident. To see the differences in broadband coverage across Indiana, visit Indiana Broadband Map. The map illustrates the disparities in upload and download capacity between rural and non-rural parts of the state.

Frustration regarding lack of high speed broadband in rural areas is felt across the state. During the upcoming legislative session, INFB will be urging state lawmakers to come up with a framework to expand broadband “to the last mile.” Those last four words are important and put the firm point on our request for improved rural quality of life and economic opportunities.

Specifics on what that framework will look like are unclear at the present time. What is not unclear, however, is INFB’s commitment to carrying this issue at the Statehouse in 2017. Members are encouraged to actively engage their legislators on this priority issue.