Broadband access: Legislators need help understanding how lack of access affects rural Hoosiers

During the 2018 legislative session, Indiana Farm Bureau members and staff will continue working with legislators to extend rural broadband to the last mile.

The topic is already on the General Assembly’s radar. The Interim Study Committee on Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications met at the Statehouse in September to discuss the complications regarding broadband accessibility across the state.

“During the committee hearing, it was clear that everyone understood the lack of broadband access in rural areas is a problem,” said Justin Schneider, INFB director of state government relations. “However, INFB members who speak with legislators should be prepared to explain the scope of the struggles they face due to connectivity issues.”

Kelly Snipes, who just finished a term as INFB district Young Farmer representative from Fulton County, is in a unique situation. A local telecommunications company, RTC Communications, has brought broadband access to Rochester, Indiana. Snipes said they even sent fiber optic cables through select areas of the countryside. Her road was one that received fiber optic access.

“We actually have pretty good internet access, so I personally can’t complain about that,” said Snipes. “However, some of my neighbors, friends and family do not have the access.”

Snipes said a major issue is the lack of cell service in the area. A common misconception is that people in rural areas can rely on wireless technology when broadband internet access is not an option. In Fulton County and many other counties across Indiana, this is not a viable solution. Snipes added that having no service in a farm environment poses a real safety concern.

“When it comes to cell phone service where our grain bins are, there isn’t any,” said Snipes. “If something were to happen to my husband out there, he wouldn’t be able to get a call through to get help.”

Deidra Gottbrath, Washington County Farm Bureau president, said there are still a lot of areas in her county that don’t have access to broadband. Gottbrath lives in one of those areas and relies heavily on her cell phone data to complete farm-related business.

“The connectivity of the cell phone is limited at best on some days and trying to get business done that way is definitely time-consuming and inefficient,” said Gottbrath.

Gottbrath mentioned the challenges facing area school systems that are attempting to implement internet-based learning programs. She said the school boards received community pushback since many areas just don’t have access to the internet speeds required. Gottbrath added that another community concern is the lack of reliable connectivity for patients seeking telemedicine services.

“With everything that people are doing with technology, it’s crazy that we have so many things that have far exceeded expectations, but some of these things that have now become basic means of functioning [are inaccessible to many],” said Gottbrath.