Momentum builds for rural broadband expansion

Tom J. Bechman FieldView by Climate monitor
REQUIRES SUPPORT: For systems like FieldView by Climate to work effectively in the field, broadband and cellular infrastructure is required.
The Indiana Legislature provides more broadband funding and clarifies several issues.

Indiana showed it was serious about rural broadband in 2019 when the state Legislature allocated $100 million to a grant program for entities that could undertake projects to extend rural broadband coverage throughout the state. Gov. Eric Holcomb led the charge that resulted in the allocation by officially announcing a proposal to launch the $100 million grant program in 2018.

So far, several entities have taken advantage of the opportunity, and many projects are underway. However, it became obvious that $100 million wouldn’t satisfy the goal of providing quality broadband service to the last mile.

Indiana Farm Bureau was a key proponent in backing a request for more funding. “Our members feel this is a priority, and we made sure legislators were aware of the need,” says Jeff Cummins, director of policy engagement for INFB.

The state budget enacted into law contains provisions for $250 million for the Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program. This is additional money beyond the $100 million originally committed in 2019.

In addition, legislators introduced various other bills designed to assure that internet speeds in projects installed through grants are sufficient, and that other possible roadblocks to implementing grants and using the money for its intended purpose are avoided. See a rundown of these new laws that passed and were signed into law by Holcomb in the infographic below.

building momentum for rural broadband infographic

Very early in 2021, the final four contestants in the Indiana Young Farmer Discussion Meet made it clear that installing rural broadband is expensive. However, they also noted that cooperation between state and local entities can make it happen.

There are inklings that a new system of satellite coverage might help solve the rural connectivity issue. While it may be a future part of the solution, it doesn’t appear to be ready everywhere yet, and initially, it could be very expensive.

Until then, driving forward by encouraging traditional solutions to broadband availability seems like the best solution.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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