Tech

State, county look to increase local broadband access

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Some solutions aren’t as simple as unplugging it and plugging it back in.

Such is the case when it comes to reliable broadband internet access in Montgomery County.

Officials across the state, as well as school administrators and technology companies like Wabash Heartland Innovation Network, are leading a push to make the internet more reliable and accessible in both urban and rural areas in Indiana.

Montgomery County recently received a Broadband Ready certification for meeting certain criteria, such as an expedited approval process, the lack of permits and no fees.

“So that is what we did, that way people that want to expand broadband, there isn’t a burdensome process to get broadband installed,” County Administrator Tom Klein said. “The state has a Next Level rural broadband program, and people are actually applying. Broadband companies can submit an area and say ‘we want to expand broadband to this area’ and the state would help subsidize that.”

Klein added that individuals can submit an address for the state to determine if it is eligible for a subsidy. The address would then be put out to bid for companies willing to expand to that area.

Fiber-optic cabling has been an option in Crawfordsville for some time, but even those in the county’s urban center have struggled with bandwidth — the rate of how much data can be transfered through a given wire, line or cable.

County officials are now set to meet with representatives from the state, WHIN and administrators from Crawfordsville, Southmont and North Montgomery school districts, to determine how best to move forward.

The issue highlighted some of the worst aspects of the pandemic, which saw students turn in mass to the internet as their only source of education.

“I will be meeting with [Klein] to discuss increasing broadband services in the county. That’s always a good thing for our students who have to be absent, for whatever reason,” Crawfordsville Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Bowling said. “I think they’re going to look at actual maps and try to determine those areas that don’t have broadband services.”

Klein said three potential areas in Montgomery County have already been identified and are awaiting consideration.

“There are two or three companies in the running to get their broadband proposals approved by the state,” he said. “Tipmont [REMC] has a plan to expand their program in the north part of the county, and also into Tippecanoe County. They have a three- or four-year plan. They announced it last year.”

A number of options have been developed in the last decade to move away from dependency on hardwire installations like fiber. Some, like WHIN and technology giant Google, have been experimenting with high-altitude balloons, which could beam internet access wirelessly.

“Urban centers are already beginning to receive data and digital communication capabilities like broadband, and the rural areas are lagging behind ... not just in streaming video, but in more socio-economic drivers like online education and online jobs,” WHIN’s mission statement reads.

The state says it will invest $270 million toward improving broadband access and adoption in Indiana this year.

For more information, or to apply for a subsidy, visit www.in.gov/ocra/nlc.

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