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Rush County details ‘digital inclusion’ plan

(Pixabay Photo/Michael Jarmoluk)

RUSH COUNTY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Officials in Rush County have unveiled a plan to become completely digitally inclusive by 2025. The Rush County Connect Broadband Task Force says the plan aims to help bridge the digital divide in the county by “integrating technology into the fabric of the whole community.” The plan includes four main goals to not only provide all residents and businesses with internet access, but also chart a course to leverage the technology to boost economic development.

Roberto Gallardo, who has led the volunteer task force since its inception last year, tells Inside INdiana Business the plan aims to not only improve quality of life but also show the county is ready for more economic development.

“One of the key things about this down the road is to increase awareness; community leaders and communities do not know what they do not know and they may not be aware that being digital exclusive is a threat to community economic development,” said Gallardo. “So through this plan and through the shining example of Rush County, I’m hoping that this increases the level of awareness around this issue, first and foremost.”

The goals of the plan include:

  • Upgrading broadband connectivity and access throughout Rush County in multiple phases
  • Improving quality and ownership of computing devices throughout the county
  • Improving digital skills and literacy among multiple groups in the community
  • Integrating digital inclusion strategies into community and economic development efforts

Rush County, which has a total population of fewer than 17,000, has already received the Broadband Ready certification from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. Gallardo, who is also the assistant director of the Purdue University Center for Regional Development, says the plan can largely benefit existing businesses in the county.

“It does look inward more so than outward. I don’t think the intention is that with this plan you’re going to land the next Amazon. However, we are hopeful that through this plan, we kind of strengthen what the community already has and makes it more competitive in the digital age.”

Mark McCorkle, co-chair of the Rush County Connect Broadband Task Force, says a lot of the information that led to the creation of the plan came from a survey of county residents who gave feedback of the kind of access they have, as well as the challenges faced by service providers.

“It became clear that it was bigger than an infrastructure plan that was needed,” said McCorkle.

McCorkle says Rush County and the city of Rushville have passed resolutions supporting the plan, in part, to figure out what kind of funding needs to be done to accomplish the plan’s goals. He says the task force is working to identify the areas to tackle first in order to enhance the broadband infrastructure, though specific details have not yet been worked out.

McCorkle says, at the end of the five years, he wants to see everyone in the county have the access that they need and can afford, so they can participate in the digital economy.

Gallardo adds Rush County’s plan, he believes, is the first of its kind in the state and possibly the Midwest. 

“The state of North Carolina just announced that they hope to get every single (one) of their counties to have a digital inclusion plan by 2022. And of course, Rush County is ahead of the curve at that point. That tells you that Rush County is a visionary in that sense; they understand that the landscape is changing.”

You can view the full plan by clicking here.