The West Central Indiana Economic Development District is assisting the Sullivan County Commissioners to expand rural broadband in the county.
“I talked recently with (commissioners’ president) Bob Davis and Tim Garrett representing Sullivan County about setting up a task force … This would be countywide,” WCIEDD Operations Manager Hans Eilbracht said at a recent commissioners’ meeting.
“WCIEDD’s role in this is technical support, we get no money for it,” he added. “A task force is the first step.”
The impetus for this is the state of Indiana’s Next Level Connections-Rural Broadband is offering $100 million in grants.
“Broadband is defined as 25 megabytes download, 3 megabytes upload,” Eilbracht explained. “And that is the standard they are trying to get everyone in the state up to. $100 million statewide is not a whole lot, so these grants are going to be competitive.”
Eilbracht said the issue of broadband has no fast solution, no quick fix and is pretty expensive. Not just for the county, but for the providers too.
Scott Rudd, the state’s Director of Broadband Opportunities, spoke at the WCIEDD’s annual meeting at the end of January. All six counties in the district, which includes Sullivan, were represented.
Rudd advised to not wait for the state to come up with a solution, it is up to the counties to take some action.
There are already 13 Certified Broadband Ready Communities — six cities, four towns and three counties — including the cities of Rushville, Boonville, Vincennes, Cannelton, Muncie and Mitchell; towns of Nashville, Richland City, Merrillville and Santa Claus; and Brown, Noble and Parke counties.
Coincidentally, Rudd was the former town manager of Nashville, prior to being hired last August for his new state position. Nashville was the first government entity to become state certified.
“The one closest to us is Parke County, which is in our district,” Eilbracht said. “Parke County has taken the lead with a feasibility study they paid for out of their pocket, not waiting for the state and set up a task force. They are waiting on the results of their feasibility study.”
Eilbracht informed the commissioners a broadband community designation from the state of Indiana tells a service provider that the county is all united and ready to let the providers into the county.
“If you decide to pass an (ordinance), it will tell providers, ‘Hey, we’re willing to work with you and help our people get that broadband service.’”
Rudd said at the WCIEDD annual meeting there is no regional area that has all their counties broadband ready certified.
“If we had that in our six counties, that would raise the visibility and interest from the state and providers,” Eilbracht said. “If you don’t say regional planning, the state kind of ignores you.”
He also mentioned the state has not decided yet how they will distribute this money.
Commissioner Ray McCammon asked about match money for the grants.
“They haven’t determined that yet,” Eilbracht said. “One thing I’ve heard is they’re trying to tie this with federal money in grants that’s available.”
Davis and Garrett both serve on the WCIEDD board — Davis as a board member, Garrett as a vice-president.
“We’re getting in touch with people interested in being on a task force,” Davis said. “Tim and I are going to chair it, if that is OK with everybody.”
With no objection, Eilbracht advised to get the task force formed, “then I can sit down and explain what I’ve told you. Broadband USA has some guidelines. Steps include developing a vision, assess broadband resources, engage stakeholders.
“That would be what providers call the take level. You’re kind of preresearching for the providers. That’s a way you can help out and assist providers.”
Eilbracht said the task force will need to appoint a single point of contact on all matters relating to the project.
“They don’t have to know a whole lot about broadband and internet and computers, it’s just they know how to navigate the process,” he said. “If the provider asks them something, they know who to go talk to and get an answer.
“The beauty of this is Parke County has already done a lot of this, so we can kind of pick their brains. They said we’re ready to help out too. It’s not like we’re forging a brand new path here, we can take best practices and follow what they have done.”