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Serving: IN
tractor and combine at sunset Thomas Letsinger
MOVE DATA FASTER: Fiber optic technology can send data collected in the field from computer to computer or cellphone faster than other options.

High-speed internet slowly reaching rural Indiana

Fiber optic technology is becoming standard across Indiana, but many rural communities are still left behind.

With technologies like autonomous tractors and variable-rate fertilizer spreaders, farmers and rural communities have never lived in a more technologically advanced era. Transporting lightning-fast internet and data communication, fiber optic cables seem like a must-have in communities across the U.S.

The idea of fiber optic technology has been around for centuries. In the 1880s, Alexander Graham Bell invented the photophone that used optical light technology to transmit messages. Today, fiber optic cables are used for long-distance, high-performance data transportation and telephone communication.

According to the technology website lifewire.com, a fiber optic cable is “a network cable that contains strands of glass fibers inside an insulated tubing.” This technology has made its way across the country and into urban communities. Fiber optics works so efficiently in towns because of the short distance they must travel, experts say.

Because these connections are so close together, the system is efficient and inexpensive. That’s a main reason why fiber optic cables are just now making their way into rural areas. Distances between cable connections are much larger in rural communities, so it’s much less cost efficient to install fiber optics.

Fiber optics can drastically increase internet speeds and telecommunications by sending light signals in thin glass strands at high speeds. These light signals transmit data and messages from one connection to the other. Fiber optic cables can either be single- or multi-mode. With so many uses of fiber optic technology, it is becoming more common and accessible.

Fiber optics in Tipton

Until recently, many small communities in rural areas didn’t have access to this technology. However, Tipton, Ind., is one of the communities that is seeing this technological advancement. Last summer, crews began burying fiber optic cables in the rural area to increase internet speeds and communications.

Dean Weismiller of Tipton is a retired telephone and data systems telecom superintendent and is familiar with the fiber optic technology in the community. He supports the use of the fiber optics due to its efficiency and its safety benefits.

Weismiller says his daughter benefits from the high-speed technology when she works from home. She must repeatedly send and receive data that can slow down the connection. He says without fiber optics, the connection can get so slow that she must go to the city library and use its internet service. With faster and more reliable internet speeds, she can work from home and send data she needs using the technology of fiber optics.  

“If she did have a good, fast speed, she can get the technical help out that she needs to,” Weismiller says. “Fibers are needed in the world because computers are used so much.”

He explains that fiber optics runs much cleaner and safer compared to previous technology, and it’s essential to a modern-day agribusiness.

“You need the technology to run your business,” he says. “You need technology to get to the markets.”

Weismiller says the area should have had this technology several years ago, and Tipton is behind because it’s in a small county, Tipton County.

A brighter future

Recently, Indiana was allocated money to expand fiber optic technology into rural areas. On Aug. 31, 2018, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch announced that the Federal Communications Commission granted the state of Indiana more than $29 million in funds over the next 10 years. These funds will go toward increasing broadband speeds in more than 24,500 locations in Indiana.

Gov. Eric Holcomb also called for $100 million in funding as grants for rural broadband in Indiana in late 2018. The Legislature worked that request into the state budget during the 2019 session. Various telecommunications organizations are in the process of applying for and receiving grants through this program as well.

This huge push to extend fiber optic cables and other advanced technologies into rural areas around the state is needed, experts say. About 14% of the Indiana population lives in rural areas, which is roughly 930,000 people. Farmers and other rural workers can benefit greatly from this advancement of technology.

Matt Letsinger, 60, has been farming for most of his life. He currently farms corn and beans in Tipton County with his dad. 

“Anytime you go faster, it’s good,” Letsinger says. “Some places do not even have internet yet, and this brings it to them.”

To him, this fast technology is something that farms need, especially in Tipton County. Farms can use this technology to ensure data is safe and arrives at faster-than-normal speeds.

Like Tipton County, other counties in Indiana are advancing their technology through the development of school and community programs.

Communities such as Tipton are prime examples of why new technology should be installed in rural areas. As fiber optic cables continued to be laid in Tipton, more and more individuals will reap the benefits of fiber optic technologies.

Letsinger is a senior in ag communication at Purdue University. Tom J. Bechman contributed to this story. Matt Letsinger is the author’s father.

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