Governor targets $100 million to expand rural broadband

Improving members’ access to broadband internet is a high-priority goal for Indiana Farm Bureau – and it looks like some genuine progress is being made.

 Recent weeks have seen a number of positive developments, including:

  • An announcement by Gov. Eric Holcomb of his “NextLevel Connections” infrastructure pillar that will invest $100 million to develop high-speed internet access in sparsely populated counties.
  • The appointment of Indiana’s first director of broadband opportunities, Scott Rudd. Rudd’s job is to collaborate with government and private partners to attract reliable, affordable, high-speed internet to rural Indiana. As the former town manager and economic development director for Nashville, Indiana, Rudd led efforts to bring broadband to that town.
  • The addition of a broadband readiness plan to Indiana’s Community Development Block Grant Planning Grants program. The goal is to determine a community's current broadband conditions, create a long-term vision based on needs and identify steps to take toward achieving that vision. A pilot program will be tested in the towns of Dale and English (in partnership with Marengo and Milltown) as well as three counties: Greene (including Bloomfield, Jasonville, Switz City and Worthington), Marshall (including Bremen, Culver and La Paz) and Starke (including Hamlet, Knox and North Judson).
  • $29 million in funding over the next 10 years from the Federal Communications Commission to increase broadband speeds. The funding will go to six different internet service providers who collectively operate 24,530 locations throughout the state: Benton Ridge Telephone Company, Mercury Wireless, Orange County REMC, Perry-Spencer Rural Telephone, RTC Communications and Wisper ISP.
  • The release of a study by the Purdue Center for Regional Development that showed that for every dollar spent on broadband infrastructure, about $4 was returned to the local economy. The study was conducted by economists Dr. Allan Gray, Dr. Wally Tyner and Dr. Larry DeBoer – all familiar names to rural Hoosiers.

The study, which was commissioned by Indiana Electric Cooperatives and Tipmont REMC and funded by CoBank, examined the costs, benefits and investments of broadband deployment in seven Indiana co-op territories.

If the net benefits of rural broadband for the seven REMCs studied were extrapolated to the entire state, the total would be $11,976,222,899, the study said.

“A lot of the credit for these positive developments has to go to our members,” said Justin Schneider, INFB state government relations director. “They have carried the message about the importance of rural broadband to their elected representatives, and that’s made a big difference.”