STATEHOUSE (March 5, 2021) – The Indiana House of Representatives recently advanced legislation that would prioritize access to broadband internet for schools, students and rural clinics, according to State Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero).
Cook, who voted in support of the bill, said quality access to broadband is still unavailable in many rural communities. Under this legislation, the Office of Rural and Community Affairs must consider deploying broadband to rural areas that are most in need when funding Next Level Connections grants. These grants are offered to providers and used to provide access to reliable and affordable broadband service to areas of the state needing service.
"We know having access to a reliable internet connection is critical for businesses to connect with customers and expand," Cook said. "This bill takes an important step forward to reach Hoosiers who live in some of our rural and most underserved areas across the state."
Cook said this would also create a portal on the OCRA website for students to self-report a lack of educational broadband service. Once reported, the data would be compiled and distributed to all the broadband companies in the state. The company who can serve the student for the lowest amount will be awarded the Next Level Connections grant from OCRA to serve the student's household. Cook said this process is known as a reverse auction.
To help schools and clinics, the legislation would create vouchers to help cover the cost of obtaining better internet connection. According to Cook, broadband brings the opportunity for direct access to education and health care for rural residents who are otherwise forced to travel long distances for college courses and medical treatment.
Over the last few years, the General Assembly has steadily worked to improve broadband access across rural Indiana. In 2019, Gov. Eric Holcomb appropriated $100 million to the Next Level Connections program administered by the OCRA.
The Indiana Senate is now considering House Bill 1449. For more information, visit iga.in.gov.
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.
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