Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a recent news release that expanding rural broadband into underserved, primarily rural areas in Indiana is as important today as building roads was a hundred years ago. Indiana Prairie Farmer agrees and hopes the grant program that he officially unveiled in late February generates enough momentum to move the needle forward.
Holcomb announced intentions for a grant program as part of a larger initiative to improve Indiana infrastructure last September. However, it took until now to put “wheels under the buggy” and launch the program.
The grant program is officially called the Next Level Broadband Program, and pledges $100 million in grants for those who qualify. There’s an application process through the state government. Applications are due April 5; apply at ocra.in.gov/nlc.htm.
Who can apply for a grant? Essentially any broadband provider willing to expand service for rural broadband into unserved areas can apply for up to $5 million in grants during this initial round of funding, state officials report. Recipients of the grant must be willing to provide a 20% match to receive the funds.
“Unserved areas” are defined as places without a broadband provider offering internet capable of providing the most basic services. If there isn’t a current provider offering internet fast enough to download 10 megabits per second and upload 1Mbps, as a minimum, the area is considered underserved.
You can help
Here’s where you come in. Obviously, you’re not likely eligible to apply for a grant. But your local utility or an internet provider you do business with could be eligible.
“We’re encouraging members to talk to their local utilities and providers, and encourage them to consider applying for a grant,” says Justin Schneider, director of state government relations for Indiana Farm Bureau Inc. “There is a tremendous need in rural areas for better internet, and this is a tremendous opportunity to put some funds to work to help expand coverage throughout the state.”
Some areas that are underserved might not be considered rural by everyone. I sit at my desk some 25 miles from downtown Indianapolis, and the internet service I use is already destined for extinction. My only other alternatives currently are all rated as poor choices by current customers.
There’s another reason why Schneider urges IFB members to get behind the grant program and encourage local entities to consider it. Although five bills related to extending rural broadband were introduced in the Legislature this year, it appears only one will move far enough to become law, if any are enacted. It relates to details about right-of-way where internet is installed, not about providing more money to extend internet.
It appears that for now, at least, legislators are betting that Holcomb’s grant program will generate interest and get projects moving to expand internet into areas where it’s lacking. That means local potential providers need to step forward and do it quickly. They’re more likely to do so if they hear from you about just how bad that service is needed.
The grant program is indeed a good opportunity to see if money is the carrot to move industry to action. Let’s hope it gets the needle moving.