Committee to tackle rural broadband issue

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Jeff Warren does not have very good internet service at his St. Anthony home.

“Our internet at home is almost to the point that it’s unusable,” he said. “And having kids who are trying to stream stuff, we can’t have more than one person on the internet at a time.

“I was getting fed up.”

Warren, who is a GIS technician for the City of Jasper, has formed a committee of people to work on the issue of rural broadband access and quality. He enlisted the help of Dubois Strong’s Ed Cole.

“Everything is pointing toward [the fact that] we‘ve got a much bigger issue than we realized,” Cole said.

Warren shared the idea with Cole at a meeting in September, asking him if Dubois Strong had considered looking into broadband problems in the county.

While information about rural broadband had come up at other meetings, “we had not focused on it because we were focused on workforce attraction,” Cole said he told Warren. “And he pointed out, logically, that this would be a logical thing to look at as part of workforce attraction.”

Cole had heard about the issue during the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs’ regional conference that was held in Huntingburg in May. “They showed that we have some real issues with broadband in this county,” he said.

Earlier this month, Jordan Seger, deputy director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, shared a staggering fact about broadband in Dubois County during the agriculture summit that was held in Jasper.

When it comes to rural broadband access, Dubois County ranks 70th of the 92 counties, which is not good, Cole said.

“(Seger) pointed out we were 70th,” he said “That pierced my heart. So we’re going to fix it and make it better.”

The committee includes Warren and Cole, representatives from Dubois County government and businesses, community members, and the Dubois County Community Foundation. Indiana 15 Regional Planning Commission is also assisting in the effort.

“I just asked different people in different areas (of expertise) if they would help,” Warren said.

The committee would ultimately like to get grant funding from Indiana’s Next Level Connections Broadband initiative. The state program provides funding to companies to expand broadband services to unserved or underserved areas.

But to qualify for those grants, a study must be done to determine the extent of the need in the county.

“We must prove that we have a problem,” Cole said. “How do you prove that you have a problem, unless you look at the areas and determine where the biggest need is? And that will be the focus of this study, mostly. We need to do the study so that we can provide proof of the need, so that you can go out and ask for grants.”

The committee is currently taking request for qualifications from companies that can do a study. Although there is no timeline yet for completing the study, Cole hopes it’s done in a timely and quality manner.

“We feel like if we don’t get this done fairly quickly, we’re going to lose out on some grant opportunities,” he said.

Warren just wants the less populated areas of the county to have quality internet service similar to the service that is already available in the more densely populated areas.

“My hope is that service expands so that we an get quality rural broadband service outside of Huntingburg, Ferdinand and Jasper,” he said.




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