The state of Indiana is poised to become a matchmaker of sorts for Hoosier residents and businesses lacking access to high-speed internet service and companies looking to provide it.
Senate Enrolled Act 377, approved 48-0 by the Senate and 89-2 in the House, directs the Office of Community and Rural Affairs to establish a public broadband portal for individuals to report if their internet service is slower than 25 megabits per second (mbps) for downloads and 3 mbps for uploads.
Broadband internet providers then will use the portal to bid on the opportunity to extend service to those individuals. They’ll be eligible for state grants if they can provide connections offering at least 50 mbps downstream and 5 mbps upstream.
Hoosiers can test their internet speed by visiting websites such as speedtest.net or downloading the Federal Communication Commission's mobile speed testing app from Apple or Google.
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Up to $100 million in state broadband expansion grants currently are available. Though the federal government is poised to send Indiana hundreds of millions of dollars more for broadband expansion under the American Rescue Plan.
House Enrolled Act 1449, approved 92-2 by the House and 50-0 in the Senate, directs most of the federal broadband funds to schools and rural health clinics currently unable to obtain 1,000 mbps download speeds.
It also creates a grant program to aid Hoosiers, particularly students, unable to afford high-speed internet access once it is extended to their communities.
Both measures were sponsored by state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, chairman of the House Utilities Committee.
"The pandemic really highlighted the gaps in broadband availability, and that's why we should prioritize access for students, schools and hospital clinics that are most in need," Soliday said. "For those unable to connect with others or do not have adequate internet speeds for school or work, it's a huge disadvantage.”
"Passing this legislation and using money from the grant program to fund and help Hoosiers who are underserved is a key step in getting the rest of the state connected."
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the second measure into law Tuesday. The first is expected to reach his desk and be signed before the end of the month.
“In the 21st century, high quality, affordable broadband is essential to the success of all Hoosiers and our state. I have been dedicated to improving internet access for years, and now COVID has only made the need more apparent," Holcomb said.
"Our current $100 million Next Level Broadband Grant Program is the largest single state investment in broadband, and by expanding this innovative program more Hoosiers will have access to affordable, quality connectivity regardless of where they live, work or go to school.”