INDIANAPOLIS – A new program will help bridge the digital divide in unserved and underserved areas of the state when it launches on Monday.
Indiana’s Connectivity Program aims to help more Hoosiers access reliable, high-quality internet, and will match those who do not have or have substandard internet service with internet service providers. for possible service extensions, state officials said on Tuesday.
The need to expand access to quality service has grown over the past year and a half due to the coronavirus pandemic. The connectivity program, managed by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) and the office of Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch, is a means of providing a more extensive and reliable service to households and businesses in statewide.
âAdding broadband was no longer a luxury, it was a necessity,â said Crouch.
Hoosiers can also pique their interest by calling the Indiana Broadband Connect Center, which is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on business days, starting Monday. Hoosiers can reach the call center at 833-639-8522.
âThrough this program, we can help more Hoosiers, especially those in rural areas, have better access to quality Internet service,â said Denny Spinner, Executive Director of OCRA. âIndiana’s connectivity program is one more step towards expanding broadband accessibility to all corners of Indiana. “
The program grew out of a bill passed by state lawmakers earlier this year. During the last legislative session, lawmakers proposed 18 bills dealing with Internet access.
Lawmakers approved $ 250 million in funding for the program, and an additional $ 30 million went to the program using surplus funds from a previous broadband initiative, Crouch said.
Previous programs have shown the state that many Hoosiers face a similar problem – they don’t have access to quality service, but somehow their neighbors have. In addition, under previous programs, only suppliers could apply for available government grants.
Now, Hoosiers can submit a request to the state, advising officials that they do not have adequate internet speed. Hoosiers who wish to apply must live in a location that has access to actual download speeds of less than 25 Mbps and upload speeds of less than 3 Mbps.
The state will contact the suppliers and pay for the service to be provided. Additional funding may also be available through the state’s Next Level Connections Broadband program, which helps expand internet opportunities to locations submitted through the application process.
A 60-day tendering process would follow for suppliers, and once awarded, suppliers are expected to complete their projects within nine months of the contract date, state officials said.
Indiana officials will review residents’ claims every three months to see if claims from the same area can be consolidated before the state contacts providers. This is an ongoing process and the state will review all submitted applications, Crouch said.
While residents can submit their location information to the state, this does not guarantee that their internet service will be extended. The state could also retain an application for another cycle, but this is not guaranteed either.
The main drawback of the program will be to get suppliers to agree to provide the service. Providers are open and want to partner with the state to expand access, but any expansion depends on providers partnering with the state.
âWe are very optimistic that we will find vendors who will provide the service to the Hoosiers who need it,â said Crouch.
Indiana’s connectivity program will continue until the $ 270 million in funding is exhausted. Lawmakers have the option of extending the program or adding more funding in the future, she said.
HOW TO REGISTER
The application process opens on Monday and Hoosiers have three ways to apply.
Residents of Indiana can submit an application online through the state’s Next Level Connections portal at in.gov/ocra/broadband.
Hoosiers can also call the Indiana Broadband Connect Center, a new call center that will also open on Monday. The center is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday, and can be reached at 833-639-8522.
Requests can also be mailed to the Indiana Broadband Connect Center and should include the resident’s address and Internet connection information. All mail should be addressed to the Indiana Broadband Connect Center, Office of Community and Rural Affairs, 1 North Capitol Avenue, Suite 600, Indianapolis, Indiana, 46204.
Source: Office of the Lieutenant Governor, Indiana