The Fast Lane

$1M in federal funds to expand internet in Fountain County

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KINGMAN — A federal $1 million matching grant awarded to Tipmont REMC/Wintek will bring high-speed internet to more than 100 farms, businesses and homes in Fountain County.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture official joined U.S. Rep. Jim Baird (R-Greencastle) and other dignitaries at Matt and Lisa Martin’s Kingman-area farm Wednesday to announce the award, part of a $600 million nationwide investment in rural broadband expansion.

“This is not [the] last mile, but boy, it’s an important step — particularly for those that it services,” Ted McKinney, under secretary of agriculture for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, said in remarks during an afternoon ceremony.

With the funding, Tipmont/Wintek will build 24 miles of fiber internet serving nearly 300 people in the southern part of the county.

The expansion is part of an ongoing broadband project that has connected more than 1,500 customers to faster internet. More than 7,200 homes are expected to be connected by the end of the year, providers say.

“What I see here is the community pulling together to make sure that equal opportunity remains the foundation of America and to make sure that everyone has access and can participate in this country,” Tipmont CEO Ron Holcomb said during the ceremony.

Last month, Tipmont received $16 million in federal grants through the state’s Next Level Connections Broadband Program to expand fiber internet service to more than 2,200 homes in Clinton, Fountain, Tippecanoe, Montgomery and White counties.

Officials say the broadband service will improve access to e-learning and telemedicine for residents whose lives are going more virtual during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re trying to get to that last mile, which is a challenge,” Baird said in an interview, noting the support for rural broadband among leaders in the White House and Congress. “It’s nice to see that emphasis.”

For farms, McKinney likened high-speed internet to when homesteads were connected to electricity.

“Look what that brought to rural development and to modern farming and to the pleasures of being in a normal home,” McKinney said following the ceremony. “It’s no different, it’s just the modern day version to that.”

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