Messmer recognized for broadband work


Photo courtesy Mark Messmer State Senator Facebook page

State Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, has been a strong proponent of getting broadband service to rural areas.

“When you have as many unserved rural areas that I’ve got in my district,” he said, “it’s an area that definitely that needs some help.”

His ongoing efforts earned him the 2019 Indiana Legislator of the Year award from the Indiana Broadband and Technology Association. He also won the award in 2017.

The recent award acknowledged the work Messmer, 56, did this past legislative session to set up the mechanisms to help companies that will install broadband services in rural areas that are either unserved or underserved.

That includes establishing the parameters for funding $100 million in grants companies can receive to help pay for the work. It also includes setting a policy that the Indiana Department of Transportation will treat broadband companies like other utilities and not charge them fees for installing fiber lines in state road rights of way.

“This is the biggest step that we’ve taken to promote that and helping solve the problem,” Messmer said.

The grant-funding bill officially goes into effect July 1. But Gov. Eric Holcomb has fronted the first $25 million now, using INDOT revenue from the Northern Toll Road, so that the process of grant applications can start now.

“They’re in the process now of analyzing the grant requests,” Messmer said.

The first wave of awards should be announced at the beginning of July. That will leave $75 million to be dispensed for grants after July 1.

And this will not be a one-time grant cycle.

“We will have to continue to do this in future budget years, to address the problem,” Messmer said. “The expense of getting broadband in some of these unserved areas, it’s cost prohibitive for telecommunication companies to do that on their own. There’s just not enough customers per mile to do it without some incentives from the state to help offset the cost.”

Broadband companies will contribute their share.

“This $100 million will be matched with $100 to $200 million of private investment from the telecommunication companies,” Messmer said.

Providing broadband services to rural areas has been a concern for Messmer, who was elected as an Indiana state representative in November 2008. He was elected as a state senator in November 2014.

He has worked with broadband companies, local governments, residents and other legislators in an attempt to resolve the matter. Two years ago, he sponsored a bill that worked on clearing up some technicalities in a bill that had been passed in 2016.

“We did a 5G small cell bill in 2016, but some provisions of that weren’t really workable,” he said.

In 2017 he worked with local governments and telecommunications providers to work out some of those provisions.

A few years ago he helped with a bill that allowed the rural electric cooperatives to run fiber either on their poles or in their rights of way. “That won’t be the single issue that fixes the problem,” Messmer said, “but it is a piece of the puzzle.”

All these pieces are moving the state closer to having broadband service to all of Indiana.

“These changes will significantly help expand rural broadband to unserved Hooisers across the state,” Messmer said.

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