Scott Shearer, ag engineer with Ohio State University Extension, envisions a future where an army of small robots farms your fields. Machines talk to one another and to you as you monitor things from the farm office. The work gets done, and soil compaction is minimal. Put your own timeline on when this becomes reality.
There’s at least one major obstacle to overcome first: Many rural areas have marginal broadband service. This kind of future would require modern internet capability.
That’s where Indiana Fiber Network comes in. Jim Turner, CEO of IFN, realizes there’s a need for reliable internet in rural areas right now — and perhaps an even bigger need ahead.
Here’s Indiana Prairie Farmer’s exclusive interview with Turner and August Zehner, vice president of sales and marketing for IFN:
What is the history of your company?
Turner: We were created in 2004 by 20 rural telephone companies in Indiana to provide a high-speed internet network for rural areas. Today we have 4,500 miles of fiber optic cable and serve about 4,000 buildings. We’re known as a middle-mile provider, not a last-mile provider. We’re a private, for-profit business that serves the 20 rural telephone companies that started us, plus other telecommunication companies through the wholesale market. We’re not the company that will provide high-speed internet to your home, but we may be the company that sells that capability to the rural provider who sells it to you.
Zehner: Comparing broadband to the highway system is a reasonable analogy. There are federal, state and local highways. We would be comparable to the state highway segment. We have infrastructure that companies serving rural areas can use to gain access to high-speed internet.
Where do you see your business going in the future?
Turner: This business requires a lot of investor capital because of the expense of installing fiber optic cable. We are investigating the idea of partnering with other possible local providers besides the 20 companies that began IFN. The next logical step would be to partner with rural electricity providers. They have poles, and some of them already have fiber optic cable. Lots of things would have to fall in place for that to happen, but it’s an idea we’re pursuing.
What are the biggest needs in rural areas in this area today?
Turner: We know there are needs. Some REMCs tell us the No. 1 issue at meetings isn’t about electricity; it’s about obtaining rural broadband. We need it for education, farming and medical services. There are gaps around the state which either aren’t served at all or are underserved. One thing we’re trying to do is create awareness that we’re here and can be an asset to help resolve these issues.
Are there situations in the future where you might serve farmers directly?
Zehner: If a farm business could justify $1,000 per month for internet services, we could likely serve them. Many customers we serve today are small cities and towns, who then serve residents. We helped Beck’s meet their internet and data needs. You can read about their case study at our website, indianafiber.net.
Editor’s note: You can determine current availability of various internet services in your area by visiting highspeedinternet.com and entering your area code.