Indiana approved for $187M in federal broadband expansion funding

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Indiana will receive $187 million to expand its broadband capacity under the American Rescue Plan, an amount expected to connect more than 50,000 Hoosiers to high-speed broadband internet, the U.S. Treasury Department announced Tuesday.

The funding comes from the federal Capital Projects Fund, with Indiana’s allocation consisting of more than a quarter of the total $408 million of funding for five states. The other states are Nebraska, Connecticut, Arkansas and North Dakota.

Congressional Rep. Frank Mrvan, D-1st, said the COVID-19 pandemic exposed disparities in access for health care, mental health care and education for Hoosier families.

“Who doesn’t remember pictures and news stories about children having to go to McDonald’s or sit on school buses in order to have access to e-learning? To the fundamental right of education?” Mrvan said. “This investment eliminates that and gives us the opportunity to make sure we stay connected.”

The Indiana Office of Community & Rural Affairs had no comment on the announcement.

In March 2021, President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill known as the American Rescue Plan. Indiana’s broadband funding comes from the $10 billion Capital Projects fund earmarked for broadband expansion in that plan, part of a broader $25 billion broadband effort.

Gene Sperling, chosen by Biden to oversee the stimulus plan, said Tuesday’s announcement was just the first allocation from the fund.

“I think it has become self-evident that the pandemic was a national teaching moment–that quality, affordable high speed broadband is a necessity. It is an economic and educational necessity, not a luxury,” Sperling said.

The White House estimated that more than 90,000 homes and businesses nationwide would benefit from the total funding, with over half of those impacted living in Indiana. Of the communities without broadband in Indiana, the funding should close the gap for 7.4% of those Hoosiers.

Indiana’s plan, approved by the Treasury Department, outlined the state’s plans to deliver reliable service that “meets or exceeds symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 megabits per second,” according to a White House release.

“(Those speeds) are needed for a household with multiple users to simultaneously access the Internet to telework and access education and health monitoring,” the release said.

Plans must prioritize connecting families and businesses with poor or inadequate service, especially in rural areas. In particular, Indiana’s program prioritizes school buildings, rural health clinics and households with students.

The funding comes with a caveat that Indiana must participate in the Affordable Connectivity Fund, which provides a discount on Internet services for qualifying households.

“Our goal with the capital projects fund has been to make sure not only that families are connected to the internet but that their connection is affordable,” said Jacob Leibenluft, a counselor to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. “This means that most qualifying households will receive Internet access at virtually no cost with these funds.”

Indiana’s Next Level Connections Broadband Grant will administer the funds, which some communities can choose to combine with their prior grant allotments.

“ARP is helping out so many Hoosiers and Americans; it’s helping to put COVID-19 behind us and invest in our communities,” U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, D-7th, said. “ARP was the first step to building a better nation for a more successful future generation.”

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.

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