House passes Soliday's bill ensuring those who need broadband access the most are placed first in line

Posted by: Josh DeFonce  | Tuesday, February 23, 2021 12:00 pm

STATEHOUSE (Feb. 23, 2021) – The Indiana House of Representatives yesterday advanced State Rep. Ed Soliday's (R-Valparaiso) legislation that would prioritize access to broadband internet for schools, students and rural clinics.

Soliday said quality access to broadband is still unavailable in many rural communities. Under his 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 supply reliable and affordable broadband service to areas of the state without good internet connection.

"The lack of broadband access across rural Indiana places these Hoosiers at a disadvantage for a variety of reasons, including economic growth, health care and education," Soliday said. "Over the last year, the pandemic has highlighted just how important it is for schools and students to have the internet speeds needed to adequately teach and learn online. Reliable broadband is also an important tool to improve the quality, safety, effectiveness and delivery of health care services in rural communities. We must continue putting this issue at the forefront by ensuring Hoosiers with low internet speeds get improved access."

Soliday's bill 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. Soliday 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 Soliday, 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 to provide access to reliable and affordable broadband service to all areas of the state.

 House Bill 1449 now goes to the Indiana Senate for consideration. For more information, visit iga.in.gov.

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State Rep. Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) represents House
District 4, which includes a portion of Porter County. 
Click 
here for a high-resolution photo.