WEST LAFAYETTE – Next week, Tipmont REMC crews will start stringing fiber optic lines in a project the electric co-op has been quietly plotting over the past two years and eventually will make high-speed broadband service an option for even the most rural of its members.
Construction will start in Romney and Linden, two towns south of Lafayette and home base for the electric co-op with 25,000 members, Ron Holcomb, Tipmont REMC CEO, said.
He said Tipmont is still plotting out a timeline to deliver faster internet to a coverage area that includes much of Tippecanoe, Montgomery and Fountain counties. Work in the Romney and Linden areas should be done by the end of the year. When finished, he said, running hundreds of miles of fiber lines will cost Tipmont roughly $4,000 per member – a cost he said the co-op expects to recoup in hookup and monthly fees from users.
“Broadband is an essential service, it’s not a choice in my mind – and our members let us know that,” Holcomb said. “Tipmont believes that essential services are essential to all Americans, and that you shouldn’t be penalized by living in the rural parts of our country.”
Driving Tipmont’s dive into broadband, as much as customer demand, was the confirmation of a new Purdue University cost/benefit study the electric co-op commissioned – one that Gov. Eric Holcomb leaned on as he traveled the state last week to lay out a 2019 “Next Level” agenda that included a first-time state investment into rural broadband.
Gov. Holcomb proposed putting $100 million in state money toward local matching grants for fiber optic broadband access to unserved and underserved areas of Indiana. He called it an “internet darkness” for hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers living in rural Indiana, including a map that included much of a region within a 25-mile radius of Lafayette.
Gov. Holcomb cited the Purdue study, released in late August, that estimated a four-to-one return on investments into rural broadband – nearly $12 billion on a $2.9 billion investment to reach 493,000 REMC members in the state over the next 20 years – by improving health care, solving agriculture’s big data needs in modern farm fields, setting up Indiana’s transportation system for emerging driverless technologies and generally improve quality of life in schools, businesses and homes.