Indiana is All IN on Broadband
Monday, January 9, 2023
Indiana is All IN on Broadband
Back in August 2022, the U.S. Treasury approved Indiana's plans to use $187 million of Capital Projects Fund support for its Next Level Connections program. That was 92 percent of the state's total Capital Projects Fund and earmarked to provide funds for the deployment of broadband infrastructure to provide eligible broadband service to unserved end users, which include households, businesses and community anchor institutions, such as schools and health clinics, across Indiana. Indiana estimated that support would bring high-speed internet to 50,349 locations—7.4% of the locations in the state still lacking broadband.
On December 20, 2022, Treasury approved Indiana's plan for the rest of its Capital Projects Fund allocation—an additional $16 million—to support Next Level Connections. Indiana estimates that the additional support will help connect 5,000 more locations still lacking high-speed internet access.
Indiana's $203 million from the Capital Projects Fund may only help 8% of the locations in the state that lack high-speed internet access. Moreover, even many rural residents in Indiana are not happy with their internet access even if they can get it.
The Purdue Center for Regional Development—in partnership with Purdue Extension, the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, and multiple local and regional organizations—completed 16,200 broadband home surveys in mostly rural Indiana. Results indicate that while most respondents (88.3 percent) subscribed to internet at home, more than half were unsatisfied with their service, mostly due to their connections being too slow or unreliable. Close to one-third of homes subscribed to cable technology followed by a little more than one-quarter subscribing to digital subscriber line or DSL. However, of these, 56.3% were not satisfied with their home service mostly because service was too slow or unreliable. Of the 11.7% that did not subscribe to internet at home, close to 28% said it was because service was not available followed by service being available but too expensive (16.5%) or too slow (16.2%). In addition, close to 15% said they did not subscribe at home because they already use a smartphone data plan. There is a discrepancy between what the largest share of respondents are willing to pay (less than $50) for adequate and reliable service versus what they pay now (between $50 and $74.99). Perhaps the main takeaway from this research is that the digital divide in Indiana is not a binary yes/no issue but rather a quality issue that needs to be considered when bridging this divide.
The good news is that additional help is on the way.
In a separate announcement on December 20, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) sent nearly $6 million in funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to plan for the deployment and adoption of affordable, equitable, and reliable high-speed Internet service throughout the state.
Indiana received $4,960,351.60 to fund planning activities around NTIA's Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program including:
- Development of a 5-year action plan that includes extensive local engagement and will ensure Internet access at speeds greater than 100 Mbps/20 Mbps to every Hoosier;
- Creation of a state broadband map with all serviceable locations and their current broadband service status;
- Capacity building of the Indiana Broadband Office; and
- Surveying unserved, underserved and underrepresented communities to better understand barriers to high-speed Internet service adoption.
In addition, Indiana will receive $842,235.00 to fund Digital Equity Act-related activities including:
- Development of a statewide digital equity plan to support closing the digital equity gap;
- Formation of a digital equity taskforce; and
- Conducting public input and surveys to better understand digital equity issues in the state.
As Indiana plans how to connect all Hoosiers to reliable, affordable broadband, the Purdue research offers five key insights to better address the digital divide in the state:
- It is increasingly clear that the current broadband speed threshold of 25/3 Mbps is no longer sufficient. Areas with maximum advertised speeds at 25/3 Mbps are not eligible for investment per Indiana code. At a minimum, the broadband speed should increase to 100/20 Mbps, per the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. And eligibility for broadband investment should be defined by actual speeds (through speed tests for example), not maximum advertised speeds.
- Give communities more say on where and what networks to build or improve. As has been documented in these surveys, communities have a very good idea of where adequate broadband is lacking in their communities. Communities working with providers can stretch further tax dollars when it comes to improving broadband access throughout the state.
- Reconsider the definition of overbuilding. Current practice is to avoid overbuilding, but outdated technology should not be included when applying this definition. A majority of homes subscribing to internet are not satisfied with their service because it is unreliable and slow, as documented in this study. However, much-needed investment in these areas is not an option for fear of overbuilding. To use an analogy: is it really overbuilding when replacing a dirt road with a six-lane highway?
- Affordability has got to be included when discussing the digital divide. As documented in this study, what respondents are willing to pay is not the same to what they are paying. This is key to increasing subscription rates. Moreover, some homes may have access to faster more reliable service but it may be too expensive. Tax dollars should be used to invest in areas and networks with competitive and affordable prices for Hoosiers to subscribe to.
- Take advantage of existing programs such as the Indiana Connectivity Program, which aims to connect residents and businesses that lack access to broadband internet service with service providers and assist in the expense of extending broadband to those locations. Also, take advantage of Indiana’s Farm Bureau speed test initiative to complete as many speed tests as frequently as possible (https://pcrd. purdue.edu/speedtest). More broadband data allows for more strategic investments to be made.
In addition to research, the Purdue Center for Regional Development has also deployed six fellows to increase broadband and digital literacy in Bloomington, Muncie, Richmond, Terre Haute, and Versailles. Halfway through their two-year stints, the fellows are raising awareness for digital literacy and running workshops and trainings.
"Our administration continues to make broadband investment a priority," said Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch (R-IN). "The last year taught us high-speed, reliable internet is no longer a luxury, it is essential. New partnerships continue to form to expand broadband services to Hoosiers and these fellows will help so many leaders continue their collaboration to get this critical infrastructure across our state."
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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