Indiana lawmakers look to expand broadband

Politics

INDIANAPOLIS – The pandemic is illustrating the importance of a stable internet connection in Indiana.

Many Hoosiers have been without it as they try to work from home, have their kids learn virtually or attend a tele-health appointment. So, lawmakers are working hard to expand broadband next session.

“We are at a point where broadband service is really an essential service,” said State Rep. Ethan Manning, “with telemedicine, education for kids in schools and businesses and even farmers with smart technology in the fields.”

Expanding broadband to all areas of the state is one of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce priorities for 2021.

“We’ve heard loud and clear from our members,” said Chamber President Kevin Brinegar.

Lawmakers who have also heard from their constituents about this issue are drafting legislation to make it happen.

“I’ve been working on it weekly for about two months now, so there’s a lot of complexities to it,” said State Sen. Andy Zay.

COVID-19 has tightened Indiana’s budget, but money will be necessary to convince internet providers to invest in less populated parts of the state.

“They just need kind of a down payment, that kind of initial investment, to then get a return on the investment down to a more reasonable time frame,” said Zay.

Some incentives require the removal of barriers.

“We need to streamline local permit processes, there’s some local zoning regulations that we could take a look at that are barriers now to deploy more broadband,” explained Rep. Manning.

Once the broadband is build, he said the state needs to encourage adoption of the service.

“Where do we want to be as a state? How do we want to compete as a state in the future with economic development?” asked Zay. “I think the state that figures that out will have a distinct economic development advantage moving forward.”

Both lawmakers said it won’t be cheap or easy but it is necessary for Indiana to remain competitive and survive the pandemic.

A draft of this bill is expected soon.

We reached out to Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s office for comment on this topic. His press secretary sent the following statement:

In the 21st century, high quality, affordable broadband is essential to the success of Hoosiers and our state. Lt. Governor Crouch and I have been dedicated to improving internet access for years, and now COVID-19 has only made the need more apparent. Our $100 million Next Level Broadband Grant Program is the largest single state investment in broadband and should attract another nearly $100 million in internet investment from private sectors partners. This innovative program is providing more Hoosiers access to more affordable, quality connectivity regardless of where they live, work or go to school.

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