Internet connectivity in rural Indiana: A quality of service problem.

Author:Gallardo, Roberto

Can we get broadband? Most of us doing community and economic development work throughout the state typically hear this question. This is not surprising. As digital applications are more and more part of our daily lives, communities that do not have access to affordable and adequate internet connectivity are frustrated.

This frustration is understandable. Those on the wrong side of the digital divide struggle to shop and save money online, connect with friends and family, complete homework assignments at home, learn new skills, or apply for jobs. And today, as the state battles COVID-19 in part by implementing e-learning and remote work, rural communities on the wrong side of the divide are at a significant disadvantage. In other words, access to inadequate broadband ultimately results in a lower quality of life for any community.

From an economic development perspective, investing in broadband makes sense. A study from Purdue University found that, on average, for every dollar spent in rural broadband infrastructure, about $4 comes back to the local economy. Fiber-ready industrial parks also go a long way when it comes to attracting industry, along with affordable and reliable connectivity for businesses.

In regards to workforce development, adequate and reliable connectivity is critical to reskill workers by improving their digital skills. According to the Brookings Institution, two-thirds of new jobs created between 2010 and 2016 required medium- to high-level digital skills. (1)

In other words, the digital divide--a term used to describe those with internet access versus those without--is the number one threat to 21st-century community and economic development.

For this reason, the state of Indiana is taking steps to address this issue. Governor Holcomb announced $100 million in Next Level Broadband grant funds, the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) launched a broadband planning program, and Scott Rudd became the first state broadband director.

OCRA asked us, the Purdue Center for Regional Development (PCRD), to provide technical assistance to the communities engaged in their broadband planning program. A vital component of this planning effort had to do with gathering more accurate broadband data--including footprint, cost and satisfaction levels-since existing broadband data sets have serious limitations.

In collaboration with OCRA and Purdue Extension, a household broadband survey was conducted over six months and across...

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