Lawmakers continue to sort through rural broadband issues

(photo supplied / Indiana Statehouse)

INDIANAPOLIS (Network Indiana) — Indiana’s trying to expand your access to high-speed broadband, but legislators are still hashing out the details.

The state has been working to extend broadband into hard-to-reach areas for a while, but the coronavirus pandemic has brought renewed attention to the issue, with more Hoosiers needing to do their jobs, go to school, or consult doctors through web connections. Four separate bills addressing different aspects and approaches for broadband expansion are under consideration in the House and Senate. That doesn’t include the budget bill, which proposes a quarter-billion dollars to expand broadband.

The challenge for legislators is to focus that money on areas which don’t have broadband service, without duplicating federal efforts. They’re discussing a range of ideas to connect as many Hoosiers as possible.

One proposal would go a house at a time — a state portal would take reports from homes and businesses who don’t have access, tell the state you need broadband, and the state would take bids from contractors. Joni Hart with the Indiana Cable and Broadband Association says providers hear frequently from people who report they’re within a mile of an existing network, close enough to see the lines, but don’t have access themselves.

Another proposal would give vouchers to people who have networks available but can’t afford them. Indiana Farm Bureau policy director Katrina Hall says expanding rural broadband is a top priority for the Farm Bureau, but says broadband access an urban issue as well, especially when it comes to affordability.