Capital Projects Fund Helps Connect Indiana to the World

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Wednesday, August 31, 2022

digital beat

“We connect the Hoosiers to each other and to the world.”

-Governor. Eric J. Holcomb

Indiana understands the importance of connectivity, especially in underserved and unserved rural areas, and recognizes the need for affordable and reliable broadband for all communities. Gov. Eric Holcomb and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch spearheaded the biggest broadband investments in state history. Additional resources for broadband investment became available this week as the US Treasury approved the state’s plan for Capital Projects Fund support for infrastructure deployment.

The digital divide in Indiana

Using data from the US Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey, researchers at Ball State University estimated that 42,413 Indiana households with school-aged children did not have home internet access. house, which represents about 6.5% of all Indiana households with school-aged children. They estimated that about 68,649 to 80,118 school-aged children in Indiana did not have Internet access at home.

Among households with school-aged children and no Internet access, the researchers found higher proportions of single-parent households (i.e., 57% of households without Internet access are single-parent households), inactive parents (18.9%), low-income households (35.2%), non-English speakers at home (22.4%) and households living in a rental building (49. 3%).

Single-parent households with school-aged children were 44.4% more likely to not have Internet access. Households with parents not in the labor force were 54.1% more likely to not have the Internet. Low-income households (with an income of less than $25,000/year) were less likely to have Internet access than other income groups. Finally, households that did not speak English at home were 66.1% less likely to have Internet access. Importantly, the researchers also observed widespread geographic differences in access across the state. Rural areas have seen much lower internet penetration rates. This means that students without internet access are most likely concentrated in rural Indiana. The results suggest a geographic concentration in both rural and urban places of the state.

Taking Indiana to the next level

Indiana Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch created the Broadband Opportunity Office in 2018 to identify needs and remove barriers to broadband deployment and digital literacy in the state. The office is meant to be a one-stop-shop for all things broadband in Indiana.

The state legislature created the Broadband Ready Communities program in 2020 as a tool to encourage broadband development throughout Indiana by serving as an information resource and certifying local communities as broadband ready. . Certification is intended to signal to the telecommunications industry that a community has taken steps to reduce barriers to investment in broadband infrastructure. The Indiana Broadband Office certifies communities that establish a process to review applications and issue permits for broadband projects. Procedures should include:

  • A single point of contact for all questions related to a project.
  • A guarantee that all project-related requests will be reviewed and approved or rejected within ten (10) business days of submitting a request.
  • Assurance that all inspections, including necessary approvals, related to a project will occur in a timely and expeditious manner.
  • Authorization for all project-related forms, applications and documents to be filed and signed electronically.

The procedure cannot:

  • Requiring an applicant to appoint an ultimate contractor to carry out a project.
  • Charge a fee to review an application or issue a permit for a project.
  • Imposing a seasonal moratorium on the issuance of permits for a project.
  • Discriminate between communications service providers or utilities, including granting access to public rights of way, infrastructure and poles, river and bridge crossings, and any other physical assets owned or controlled by the community .

In 2020, the Office of Broadband Opportunities published Indiana Statewide Broadband Strategic Plan, showcasing a number of initiatives to promote the benefits of expanding broadband access. The four strategic areas of the plan were: 1) engaging the business community, bridging the digital divide, 3) improving community development and quality of place, and 4) attracting broadband talent.

The statewide broadband strategy builds on Governor Eric Holcomb’s NextLevel plan, which recognizes the role of broadband in five pillars: economy, infrastructure, workforce and dedication, public health and good governance. The infrastructure pillar initially included $100 million for the Next Level Connections program, hosted by the state’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program is designed to provide funds for the deployment of broadband infrastructure to provide eligible broadband service to unserved end users, which include households, businesses and businesses. anchor community institutions, such as schools and health clinics, throughout Indiana.

To be eligible to participate in Next Level Connections, Indiana broadband providers must serve at least 100 subscribers for at least three years. Next Level Connections prioritizes funding for projects that provide symmetric speeds of 100/100 or greater to as many locations as possible. Additionally, projects that include the provision of 1 gigabyte connections to schools and/or rural health facilities will receive priority funding, if part of an eligible project.

Qualifying broadband project expenditures are terrestrial capital expenditures directly related to a qualifying broadband project, including design, engineering, permits, construction of “last mile” infrastructure expenditures and validation of service expenses. The last mile is defined as the final leg connecting a broadband service provider’s network to the end-user customer’s on-site telecommunications equipment. Intermediate mile expenses are only eligible for a subsidy when they are necessary for the provision of last mile services. Project-related maintenance or operating expenses are not considered eligible activities.

Eligible project areas are specific addresses in Indiana that lack broadband coverage (less than actual 25 Mbps downstream speeds); areas that lack reliable and quality terrestrial fixed broadband access; and areas with a dire need.

In April 2022, Next Level Connections awarded $189 million for 154 broadband infrastructure expansion projects across the state. In addition to the $189 million, the 35 telecommunications providers and utility cooperatives involved in the projects contributed more than $239 million in matching funds, resulting in a total investment of more than $429 million for the high debit. When completed, the projects will provide broadband infrastructure to more than 52,900 homes and business locations in 80 counties. For example, 810 homes and 362 businesses or organizations in Cass and Fulton counties will benefit from broadband access thanks to a $4 million grant to RTC Communications. In Franklin, Jefferson, Jennings, Ohio, Ripley and Switzerland counties, 292 homes and 18 businesses or organizations will have access through a $1.5 million grant to the Southeast Indiana REMC.

In total, the program’s first, second and third cycles awarded $268 million for broadband infrastructure in more than 74,800 homes and business locations. Combined with private and local investments, more than $580 million has been raised since 2018. Projects will have been completed in 83 of Indiana’s 92 counties during the three award rounds.

On August 30, the US Treasury approved Indiana’s plans to use $187 million of Capital Projects Fund support for Next Level Connections. Indiana is using 92% of its total capital projects fund allocation to bring high-speed internet to 50,349 locations, or 7.4% of locations in the state that still do not have access at high speed. Each of the Internet service providers funded by the program will participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, a $30 per month subsidy for low-income families.

As a sub-program of Next Level Connections, the state also operates Indiana’s Connectivity Program which aims to connect residents and businesses that do not have access to high-speed Internet service with service providers and help with the expense of extending broadband to these locations. Owners of unserved or underserved residential and commercial locations (access to actual speeds below 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload) may apply for consideration. Broadband providers then have the opportunity to review these locations and submit bids to the state on the cost of providing service to these locations. The state’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs then evaluates these bids and awards prices to the providers whose bid has the lowest cost per Mbps to the state for extending service. [Limits per line extension are set by Indiana Code: A per-line extension amount that cannot exceed $25,000. A per passing amount that cannot exceed $4,800.]

Indiana’s second round of connectivity program awards were announced on July 14, 2022. The program awarded $259,697 to expand broadband to 58 addresses in 19 counties. Of these addresses, 56 are homes and two are businesses. Internet providers carrying out the projects matched more than $265,011 for a total investment of $524,708. A third round of awards will be announced in October 2022.

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