INDIANAPOLIS (Inside INdiana Business) — Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch says the second round of the state’s initiative to improve rural broadband has seen nearly $100 million in requests. The Next Level Connections Broadband Grant program, which launched in early 2019, provides funding of up to $5 million per project to expand broadband service to unserved areas.
The governor’s office says applications for the second round of funding came from 21 service providers, whose requests include projects affecting 47 counties. In order to be eligible for funding applicants must be able to contribute at least a 20% match.
During the governor’s COVID-19 press briefing Wednesday, Crouch said having access to high-speed internet is more important than ever.
“People need to connect to their loved ones. We need to receive telemedicine services, do e-learning, unemployment applications and so much more,” said Crouch. “This funding will provide infrastructure to connect over 11,000 Hoosier family homes.”
Crouch says the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs is currently reviewing the applications to make sure they meet the necessary requirements. A multi-agency committee will then evaluate the proposals and the awards are expected to be announced in late July.
“Governor Holcomb and I have long placed a priority on access to reliable broadband services, and the impact of COVID-19 has only strengthened our commitment to connecting Hoosiers,” Crouch said in a news release. “The remaining funding will allow for more unserved Hoosiers to click, connect and download, with the ultimate goal of bridging the digital divide in rural Indiana.”
The first round of the program awarded nearly $30 million to 14 projects across 18 counties. Among the recipients was Tipmont REMC in the Montgomery County town of Linden. Chief Executive Officer Ron Holcomb says the cooperative decided to pivot from solely providing electric services to also providing broadband.
“We have areas in our service areas which are very rural that we’re quite aware of here in Indiana and accelerating the broadband builds in those areas is greatly enhanced by the Next Level grant program,” said Holcomb. “What the state was able to do with this grant program in partnership with Tipmont is to make this service now available to over 500 Hoosiers in our area who otherwise would not have had service.”
Holcomb adds the co-op received the funding last summer and was able to have the broadband service up and running for customers in February.
In 2018, Tipmont REMC acquired Lafayette-based technology and fiber solutions provider Wintek Corp., which Holcomb says has been crucial to improving broadband access in the co-op’s service area.
You can learn more about the Next Level Connections Broadband grant program by clicking here.