INDIANA — A new program launching Monday aims to connect the entire state with stable broadband, a need that has been present in Indiana for years but has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The Indiana Connectivity Program will start off with a budget of $270 million to help connect residents that have no, or unstable, internet connection with service providers that can expand their broadband to include these homes or businesses.
“I would say that probably the cost is the overwhelming hurdle and obstacle to most Hoosiers being connected if they can’t get a broadband provider to provide that connection and it’s because it’s very expensive to do some of these connections,” Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch said.
While Indiana has allocated funds in the past to help connect residents with broadband services, ensuring access became a priority at the start of the pandemic.
“All of the sudden being connected was no longer a luxury, it was essential, because workers were teleworking, students were E-learning and healthcare was being delivered telehealth,” Crouch said.
Residents can begin applying for the program on Monday, Sept. 27 either by accessing the website portal at www.in.gov/ocra/broadband/ or calling the Indiana Broadband Connect Center, which will open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week, at (833)639-8522.
The only requirement to apply for the program is the location must not have internet connection or the connection has to be slower than 25 Mbps for downloading and 3 Mbps for uploading. Those who are not sure of their exact internet speed but feel they have unstable connection are encouraged to call or access the portal, and the connect center will do the research to determine eligibility.
The program is not just available to home and business owners, but renters should also be able to apply for the program and just provide the contact information of the landlord or homeowner so they can be kept in the loop, according to the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
Once the application opens next week, the program will collect addresses for three months and then the state will contract the work out to service providers. This process will continue every three months “until the money runs out or we have everyone connected,” Crouch said.
OCRA is not sure exactly how many people the program will be able to serve with this first allocation of funds, because the costs to include each house or business differs depending on its distance from an existing line.
However, the office is prepared to go back to the legislature and request for more funding once the $270 million is used, because they realize this first allocation will probably not be able to help everyone that needs stable internet across the state.
“There will be federal funds that will be coming to us, but we don’t know when that will be and what that will be. This [$270 million] is real money that the state has invested, and so we want to get it out the door as quickly as possible,” Crouch said.
Crouch said that this option for residents to reach out and let the state know they need services is how this program differs from OCRA’s Next Level Connection program that allows services providers to pick geographic regions on their own and then apply for grants.
“The money will go to the providers, but it allows the homeowners and the businesses and other entities to initiate the process and say ‘I’m not connected, please extend the line to my home or my business and get me connected,’” Crouch said.