Chelsea Schneider, Innovations Content Manager, Aim
For Dale, town leaders hope a new broadband program will serve as a game changer for a rural community that’s struggled with access to high-speed, reliable internet.
A lack of access has had far-reaching effects – from schools where some students receive Chromebooks but can’t connect to the internet at home to even Town Hall where Clerk-Treasurer Cindy Morrison recalls being cut off half way through filing online reports to the state.
“We need something dependable, not only do we need this technology for our community members and the students at the high school,” Morrison said, “but we need it for economic development to bring business to our area.”
That’s why Dale applied to the state to be among the first recipients of a new broadband readiness planning grant. The program, which is in its pilot stage, is providing $50,000 to five different communities to begin sketching out their broadband needs.
The purpose of the planning grant is for the recipient to get an understanding of broadband and what it looks like in the community, so they can create a vision of what they want for the future.
“It’s to educate those main stakeholders in the community about what broadband is so they can have the conversations with providers and residents and anyone interested with it about where they are and where they are going,” said Eric Ogle, CDBG Director for the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
As the state was digging into the issue, Ogle said it became very apparent that stakeholders define broadband needs in different ways. Often, communities and broadband providers talk a different language when it comes to the service. Many times, a community may have access to broadband, but adoptions rates are so low providers aren’t interested. Or they might have high-speed fiber lines or fixed wireless service but didn’t realize it until they were figuring out an area’s infrastructure.
The outcomes of the planning grant will depend on the community’s needs. Some communities may find they have the infrastructure but need higher adoptions rates. Some may find they need the infrastructure. But all plans will end with one or two action steps that a community can immediately do to operationalize the plan. One important step, Ogle said, is becoming broadband ready and streamlining the permit process to make the regulatory environment more attractive.
As for Dale, Morrison anticipates its challenges are rooted in hurdles not uncommon to rural communities across the state. It’s very expensive for providers to install fiber, and there aren’t as many customers in a rural area.
“It is a brand new pilot program that we are going to be learning and getting educated at the same time with everyone else,” Morrison said. “We are just so grateful to Gov. Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Crouch, along with OCRA.”