EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Imagine taking your school age kids to McDonald’s simply so they can get access to high-speed internet to do their homework. It’s a reality for families who live in rural parts of Indiana where broadband infrastructure is not in place.
“There are some that are very, very close to city limits (of Evansville). They just happen to be in one of those dead zones where there’s not an option available,” said Audrie Burkett, vice president and chief operating officer for the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana.
That’s why economic development teams from Vanderburgh, Gibson, Posey, and Warrick counties have launched a task force to develop an action plan to secure broadband for underserved areas in the region.
“We’ve got to find a way to incorporate digital infrastructure. To us it’s just as important as water and sewer infrastructure,” said Burkett.
Burkett says thousands of residents in the four-county region do not have the benefit of high-speed internet.
The lack of high-speed internet affects the region’s ability to attract new business and talent.
“Citizens living in rural southwest Indiana communities shouldn’t have to make compromises in terms of education, commerce and overall quality of life due to inadequate broadband connection,” said Vanderburgh County Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave.
Musgrave says it’s difficult for rural businesses to compete in the global marketplace, via e-commerce without digital technology. It also limits farmers’ ability to use the latest ag innovations, like precision technology, to their fullest potential.
Burkett says a major part of the committee’s work is to create the opportunity and incentives to get broadband providers to invest in the infrastructure.
“How do we understand where the need is? How do we work one on one with providers whether they’re in our area or not? And then, of course, it’s all about finding the resources in order to get the infrastructure here,” Burkett said.
According to BroadbandNow, a website that ranks internet service providers, Indiana ranks in the lower one-third (No. 35) of the most connected states.
In August, Governor Eric Holcomb announced $22.1 million in funding for rural broadband infrastructure projects in 12 Indiana counties. It was the first release from the state’s $100 million “Next Level Broadband” expansion program.
Burkett says the southwest Indiana team will vie for money when a second round of grant opportunities is announced.
The task force created an online survey to gather data from residents and businesses to help guide the committee’s efforts. Click here to view the survey.
Burkett tells Inside INdiana Business how rural businesses, like agriculture, are missing opportunities.