Bill prioritizing broadband access now law

Legislation supported by State District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, and District 59 Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, prioritizing broadband access for students, schools and rural clinics is now law.

Lucas said rural communities throughout the state struggle with quality access to broadband and high-speed internet.

Currently, Indiana’s infrastructure plan includes the Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program, which is available through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs to supply reliable and affordable broadband service to areas of the state without strong internet connection.

With this law, OCRA must make it a priority to deploy these grants to unserved areas most in need first.

"Even before the pandemic, many businesses and students were using the internet daily for a number of reasons," Lucas said. "Now is certainly the time to invest in the state’s broadband infrastructure so that every Hoosier has reliable broadband access regardless of where they live."

Lauer said the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the need for Hoosiers to be able to connect with one another online.

"It’s important to prioritize access for those who are currently living in underserved areas because they cannot afford to fall further behind," he said.

House Enrolled Act 1449 will create a reverse auction for students who can self-report a lack of educational broadband service through a portal on the OCRA website. Lucas said the broadband company that can provide service to the student’s household for the lowest amount of money would be awarded the Next Level Connections grant.

Lucas said a new voucher program also will be created to help schools and clinics cover the cost of obtaining better internet speeds and higher-quality connections. He said Indiana’s recently passed biennial budget also allocates an additional $250 million in broadband expansion.

House District 69 includes portions of Bartholomew, Jackson, Jennings and Jefferson counties, and District 59 includes a large portion of Bartholomew County.

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