High speed internet is on line to come to rural Cass County.

The Wabash Heartland Innovation Network (WHIN) is funding a two-year broadband study for a 10-county consortium that includes Cass County.

And in Cass, the $242,769 grant that WHIN is providing will fund a study of the infrastructure needs for wireless and fiber technology in the areas surrounding U.S. 35 — both north and south of Logansport.

The study is part of a plan to make the 10-county area a “digital epicenter of precision agriculture,” said Lynette Bleed, RCF Program Coordinator at WHIN.

The money originally came from a Lilly Endowment grant from December 2017 that is designed to promote technology in the area for the future of farming and manufacturing, and it’s called “Internet of Things.”

At a ceremony Thursday at the Cass County Government Building, WHIN presented a check for the project to the North Central Indiana Regional Planning Council (NCIRPC).

NCIRPC will administer the grant for Benton, Carroll, Cass, Clinton, Fountain, Montgomery, Pulaski, Tippecanoe, Warren and White counties, which make up the consortium.

The consultant doing the study will be Watch Communications of Lima, Ohio. During multiple meetings with the consulting firm, members of each county’s economic development organization, a community foundation director and the NCIRPC director developed the scope of the study, said WHIN Vice President of Regional Development Melinda Grismer.

The study will examine what it will take to design a network of wireless and fiber technology between the 10 counties to provide broadband coverage to 80 percent of the 10 counties that WHIN administers to.

There will be 15 “mini-ecosystem” areas under study, including those two areas in Cass, and at the end of the study, at least one of the 15 will have a trial run for a smaller network.

“It’s a beta grant, so we’re going to have a test site. But mostly it’s a planning grant,” Grismer said.

The test site location will be decided during the study process, she said.

During the study’s two years, the 10 partner counties will collaborate with Watch Communications to identify where the unserved or under-served areas are and the quality of existing internet services.

County officials will also look at existing infrastructure and assets that can be used for the new network, determine infrastructure needs and decide on the implementation plan.

Implementation planning includes having a projected cost for the network and identifying potential risks.

The leaders from economic development organizations will need to foster communication between their own county’s officials, local internet service providers and Watch Communications, said Grismer.

“It’s a plan that these 10 counties will own jointly in order to determine their future together,” she said.

The economic development officials from the 10 counties were optimistic about the program and the cooperation it entails.

Shan Sheridan of the Clinton County Economic Development likened their relationship to family, which can be spread over an area but still remain close through contact.

“Technology can bring us together, can bring us closer,” Sheridan said. “This is going to bring us together, and we’re going to do some great things together,” he said.
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