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Task Force says map of broadband is wrong

This map of broadband connectivity from the Federal Communications Commissionshows Fayette County is well served. That’s wrong,according to the Fayette County Intelligent Community Task Force. It’s important because state funding for expension of broadband is at least partly based on the map. The white areas are alleged to have broadband availability.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

Persuading state and federal officials that they are wrong about high speed broadband service in Fayette County might not be easy but it’s important, according to the Fayette County Intelligent Community Task Force.

Most of the county is not adequately served by high speed broadband. But a federal map says the county is well served. That’s the map used by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to determine areas that are eligible for a NextLevel Connections grant for extending broadband in rural Indiana. At stake is part of the $100 million available.

The map shows only a few areas in the county that are not well served with broadband. The task force knows that many areas do not have Internet, let alone high speed broadband.

According to the NextLevel program, if an area has 10 mbps download and 1 mbps upload or if a potential provider has been designated for a certain area through a federal program, it is considered “served.” That’s the standard used in developing the map.

Some big service providers say an area is covered but it is not, Shannon Tom, Henry County REMC CEO, said. His electric company has been involved in providing broadband and is one of several providers that have expressed interest here, if the financial picture is right.

Because of the method the state is using to disperse funds, including the map, the task force needs to show the state their mistake, Alex Carroll, president of Lifeline Data Centers and local resident, said.

“We have to help them understand why we need this, what we need and how we need it,” he explained. “There is no reason why the state cannot fund it all (fiber installation). We’re the poorest county in the state. This project, we’re talking about the success or failure of Fayette County over the next 50 years.”

Without high speed Internet, the county will be locking itself out of every future economic opportunity that matters, he said.

He said the governor or lieutenant governor could not operate their offices out of local areas that the state believes are well served.

Terry Miller, Fayette County School Corp. technology and information systems director, said the school does not participate in eLearning, which allows students to use the internet at home during weather closures. Even if broadband were available, many families could not afford to connect to it.

The task force will be asking residents, businesses and industry to contact the state about the need for high speed internet.

 

Gertrud Whitaker, Fayette County Chamber of Commerce executive director, will contact chamber members about contacting the state about their internet problems. Some members try to operate from their homes but do not have adequate internet service.

 

To be eligible for a NextLevel grant, the county must have a feasibility study, Dan Parker, Fayette County Economic Development Group executive director, said.

Three companies have submitted bids for the study. The lowest price quote is $20,000, from a consulting group called Pulse.

Tom said Pulse did a similar study for HCREMC and he has given permission for them to use the Fayette County data for this study. As a result, Pulse lowered its initial bid of $25,000 to $20,000 for the county study. HCREMC has more than 200 customers in the county.

Two other REMCs serving customers in Fayette County also have consultants make feasibility studies. Terry Jobe, Rush-Shelby Energy CEO, and Mary Jo Thomas, CEO of Whitewater Valley REMC, both said they would see if that data can be used for the Fayette County feasibility study, further reducing the cost.

The Fayette County Board of Commissioners has committed to provide some funding but is waiting to see how much is donated from others.

Parker said he will ask for $4,000 from the EDG board. Carroll said he would make a contribution. Businesses will be asked to donate to the study and the city will be asked for funding.