Cook: Expanding broadband access for Hoosiers

Posted by: Joseph Bursley  | Thursday, April 8, 2021

More and more Hoosiers rely on internet everywhere they go. While connecting to the web may seem like a normal part of everyday life to some of us, many still do not have reliable broadband access. The COVID-19 pandemic further emphasized the need for more Hoosiers to get online, as many shifted to working and learning remotely to help slow the spread of the virus. This session, I am supporting multiple efforts to invest and build infrastructure to expand broadband access across our state.

Every two years, lawmakers are constitutionally required to adopt a balanced budget, which funds critical services including K-12 education and public safety on top of other initiatives that continue propelling Indiana's economy forward. One of those key investments is expanding broadband in rural and underserved parts of our state. The current budget proposal would invest an additional $250 million in broadband expansion. This is in addition to $198 million in federal funding available to assist with the expansion of broadband access to rural communities. These funds will be used to provide grants to broadband providers in Indiana to install new fiber cables and utility towers in the communities that still need reliable access to internet.

To get more Hoosiers online, Indiana must find a way to install critical infrastructure needed to reach those individuals needing broadband. House Bill 1164 would remove unnecessary regulations slowing the implementation of this infrastructure. This legislation would streamline the permit process for developers looking to install broadband so providers wouldn't get tied up in different regulations across county lines and city boundaries. It would also encourage local governments, homeowners and homeowners associations to collaborate with providers on the aesthetics of newly installed infrastructure.

As Indiana continues investing in broadband access, we must ensure we are providing our next generation the tools to navigate the digital age. House Bill 1449 would direct the Office of Community and Rural Affairs to prioritize schools, students and rural communities when allocating broadband expansion grants. This legislation would also create a portal for students to self-report a lack of internet coverage, so OCRA can accurately identify which areas are the most in need of broadband infrastructure.

These efforts provide the next steps to help close the digital divide between our communities. As our livelihoods rely more and more on the web, lawmakers will continue working to ensure all Hoosiers have access to a reliable broadband internet connection to expand their business operations, help students learn and connect with loved ones. If you have any questions about these proposals for new laws or have any input about how I can better serve you as your state representative, please contact my office at H32@iga.in.gov.

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State Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero) represents House District 32,
which includes all of Tipton County and portions of Hamilton,
Madison, Delaware, Howard and Grant counties.
Click here to download a high-resolution photo.