Why high-speed internet bypasses some in Indiana

Person using the internet. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana lawmakers are looking at how to expand the number of Hoosiers with access to broadband internet.

Thursday, they heard from community leaders and industry experts on what could be done.

It happened at the Statehouse during a study committee that focuses on broadband internet connection in rural parts of Indiana.

The possibilities could be endless for internet connection, including some being developed.

“This millimeter(-wave) 5G technology,” said William Soards, AT&T Indiana president. “There’s a lot of thought you can pop an antenna up in a city and beam a gigabit or more into people’s homes.”

But improvement is still needed until new technology arrives. Some rural communities don’t have access to broadband internet connection or their internet quality is quite poor and you’ll see video pixelating or, at the worst, the video will freeze.

“Broadband has gone from being a luxury to a necessity to fully participate in our economy and society, for citizens in Indiana,” said Rep. Sharon Negele, a Republican from Attica.

Community leaders addressed lawmakers saying poor internet connection impacts home prices, the size of school districts and students’ ability to work.

“When schools go one to one with tablets and kids take them home and they cannot do their homework, they cannot research, they cannot even connect to an online textbook,” said Lucinda Nord, from the Indiana Library Federation. “That is an issue that you need to pay attention to.”

In Nashville, a town of about 1,000 people about 30 miles south of Indianapolis, about half of students don’t have internet. Town manager Scott Rudd said they don’t have a breakdown of how many cannot access the World Wide Web.

Rudd said it would cost $15 million to work with a provider to bring high-speed internet.

“How do we bridge that gap in funding? What funds do we use from a local perspective? What funds can we bring from state,” he asked.

Others said Indiana inefficiently tracks homes that can access the internet by grouping many rural communities together.

The problem is if a provider reports one home has access to broadband internet, it applies to the entire area — when that may not be the case.

Another option is tracking by street.

“Only once that is measured accurately can Indiana’s broadband challenge be resolved,” said Brent Legg, the vice president of government affairs at Connected Nation, which works to bring better internet connectivity around the country.

Tracking high speed internet can affect who gets federal subsidies to improve internet connection. There could be federal action on the issue but he said the state could do something, too.

It wasn’t discussed how much any changes could cost the state of Indiana.