Government

Opening the Door

County establishes rules for approving, permitting broadband projects

Internet access in remote zone, power of technology concept. Road sign with wifi signal icon on rural environment, includes copy space.
Internet access in remote zone, power of technology concept. Road sign with wifi signal icon on rural environment, includes copy space.
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Montgomery County is making it easier to expand broadband to rural homes and businesses.

The county has established new rules for approving and permitting broadband deployment projects in an effort to break down barriers to reliable high-speed internet in harder to reach places.

The procedures are set forth in a resolution passed by the Board of Commissioners this week as the county seeks to become a state-certified “Broadband Ready Community.”

A company or utility will not have to designate a final contractor to complete a broadband deployment project and there will be no fees to review an application or issue a permit, the rules say. Permits can be granted year-round.

The county will appoint a single point of contact for broadband development projects and establish procedures for submitting forms, applications and documents electronically through the building department.

Permit applications must be approved or denied within 10 days after being filed and the county has pledged to complete project inspection in a “timely and expeditious manner.”

The policy also states that the county will treat service providers or utilities equally when granting access to public rights-of-way, infrastructure and poles, river and bridge crossings and any other county owned or controlled property.

According to Purdue University’s Digital Divide Index, more than 37% of Montgomery County residents did not have access to at least average internet speeds in 2019. The rate was well above the state average of 13.4%.

The county is working with the regional Wabash Heartland Innovation Network to expand broadband access.

Approving the resolution opens the door to grant money for broadband projects.

The state offers funding to service providers through the Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program. In 2020, Comcast was awarded more than $847,000 in matching funds to extend broadband to about 200 unserved homes in Darlington.

The county could also be eligible for funds to survey current broadband conditions and needs and create a long-term plan for broadband expansion.

Board of Commissioners President John Frey said the county has a lot of catching up to do on broadband access.

“We can’t wait around for that long-term plan,” Frey said.

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