FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — In the next three to five years 80% to 90% of Indiana will have access to high-speed, high-quality broadband internet.
The goal is a part of Senate Enrolled Act 377 which was passed this session. State Senator Andy Zay (R-Huntington) was one of the authors of the act and says the goal may seem extreme, however, the state is “positioned well and can’t sit still.”
“Governor Holcomb can say he started a good thing but by the time we elect a governor in a few years, I want them to be able to communicate with Hoosiers, the Midwest, and the county that Indiana is connected,” Sen. Zay said. “Come stay here, come play here, come worship here and you will have access to all the tools to do your job, connect with your family and do what you want to do.”
Senate Enrolled Act 377 created the Indiana Broadband Connectivity Program. The program establishes a portal that will allow Hoosiers who have no or poor internet access to alert the Office of Community and Rural Affairs that they are in need of broadband access.
The need for better access was highlighted last year when most of the country shut down due to COVID-19. Schools sent students home, businesses began working remotely, and good high-speed internet became more than a want but a need.
Sen. Zay spoke with WANE 15 via Zoom from his home located just east of Huntington. During the interview, his internet connection stalled, the picture became blurry and on several occasions stopped working altogether.
“I hesitate to say this is personal but we have spotty internet at my business and home,” Zay said. “It how to we extend the bands from our urban and metropolitan areas and this next generation will become accustomed to having internet. That’s really one of the first boxes that getting checks when trying to figure out where they are going to work and live.”
Recent data released by the U.S. Census Bureau found that 49 of Indiana’s 92 counties saw a decline in population over the last decade and most were in rural Indiana. Zay says the hope is by bringing broadband to the rural areas fewer people will choose to leave the area.
Indiana’s General Assembly allocated $250 million for the Next Level Connections Broadband Grant program in the budget. Applications for the third round of the program are currently underway where $270 million will go to communities to strengthen their broadband infrastructure.
In addition, several telecommunications providers and utility cooperatives are also contributing to getting internet to the rural parts of Indiana.
Mercury Wireless will help communities in Allen, DeKalb, and Whitley Counties, while Lakeland Internet will cover a project in Steuben County. Several different REMC’s are also working to help expand broadband internet services.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Zay said. “There are lots of challenges to put all these things together and not make these investments one over top of each other. This is really to be efficient with both dollars we are providing as a state and the services they are providing to the area.”
To learn more about the Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program and apply for the program click here.