What is the number one issue facing rural Hoosiers in 2021? Indiana Farm Bureau and Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch agree that it’s rural broadband.
“We always knew that broadband was important and that it’s important for Hoosiers to be connected because having access to fast, affordable, reliable broadband affects workforce, healthcare, education, economic development, and quality of life,” says Crouch. “So, we knew that it was important and that is why Governor Holcomb and I have invested $100 million in expanding broadband throughout rural Indiana. Now, through COVID, we learned that being connected was no longer a luxury. It was a necessity.”
Crouch says they were heartened to learn at the beginning of December that the federal government would be spending $169 million over the next 6 years to help build out broadband in Indiana.
2021 is a budget year for the state of Indiana. After coming off a rough 2020 due to COVID-19, will there be dollars in the budget for rural broadband? Crouch says she sure hopes so.
“That would be what we are working towards. Our revenue forecast in December was brighter than what had been anticipated, so while our general fund revenues have taken a hit due to COVID-19, it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. So, we will be looking at how we can not just have more money to expand broadband, but what kind of steps can we take, what kinds of things can we do, to remove some barriers for the private sector to be able to expand broadband.”
While Crouch is hopeful for more rural broadband money, she acknowledges that it won’t be a robust budget session in terms of extra dollars.
She says it will take a partnership at the federal, state, and local levels to bring broadband to the last mile.