REMC receives nearly $4 million grant


Nearly 5,000 Jackson County Electric Membership Corp. customers will have access to high-speed broadband internet in the coming months.

That’s thanks to Tuesday’s announcement that REMC will receive a $1.9 million grant and a $1.9 million loan through the U.S. Department of Rural Development’s ReConnect Program. The investment is part of the $550 million Congress recently allocated to the second round of the program.

“I’m so glad to see this investment in infrastructure in my home state of Indiana,” said Ted McKinney, USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs.

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McKinney spoke during a ceremony at REMC’s office in Brownstown.

“In my conversations with our overseas trading partners, we often speak about the important role of innovation to global agriculture. But innovation depends on access to reliable, high-speed internet,” he said. “I’m hopeful that investments such as ReConnect can help farmers operate more effectively and efficiently to deliver their products to those across Indiana — and, indeed, across the world.”

REMC plans to use the funding to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 4,881 people, 198 farms and 36 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in far western Jackson County and eastern Lawrence County.

Michael Dora, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s state director, said the funds will take fiber the last mile from the mainline into homes and businesses.

He also said he’s thankful for some of the other things Jackson County REMC is doing with fiber and smart grids.

“They’re doing away with meter readings, they’re monitoring their lines and monitoring all their substations and everything else,” Dora said.

McKinney, a native of Tipton County, who grew up on a farm still worked by his brother, said he knows what it’s like to be a farmer with a part breaking in a field.

“Rather than having to walk to the end (of the field), get into a truck, go home and get on the phone, you can just do it from the cab of your tractor, combine or whatever implement you might be using,” he said. “So I would say for us to be competitive across the board, we need this.”

He said the announcement was just one step to get all of Indiana covered with broadband in the last mile, but it’s an important step especially to Jackson County REMC customers.

He said Jackson County has a poverty rate of 12%.

“So to the degree with can address any and all parts of that (the poverty rate) we can lift up every one, it’s certainly important to Jackson County,” McKinney said. “I tell you what comes to my mind is that child who is trying to get ahead in school — with the problems of COVID no less — and not having to go out — say to a McDonalds or a library where they can get broadband or Wi-Fi — to do their homework. They can do it in the comfort of their home.”

McKinney said there is connectivity between foreign ag affairs, trade … and what REMC is doing.

“So we can help our farmers and ranchers and all the businesses you service get their work done in the most efficient manner,” he said.

McKinney also presented a certificate of recognition to Jackson County REMC for its commitment to bringing reliable high-speed broadband internet service to rural citizens of Jackson and Lawrence counties.

Mark McKinney, CEO of Jackson County REMC, said a survey of its customers in the area to be served shows it is under served if served at all.

McKinney, who is not related to Ted McKinney, said if there is anything COVID has done positive, it has revealed the true divided that exists in rural America.

Mark McKinney said many things came to a stop with the pandemic including parents working from home, students trying to access homework, telemedicine and even the closure of movie theaters.

If everything goes as planned, construction in the area should begin sometime before the end of the year, McKinney said.

“And with that timeline, I could expect to see people starting to get connected early summer or late spring,” he said.

The project is just a part of Jackson REMC’s overall project to provide broadband internet to all of the 20,206 customers in its 10-county service area.

“With what started out as a five year project, we hope to have completed in less than four,” McKinney said. “Our whole focus on this was to provide a service connection and service for our members.

“We felt like that is our role as a cooperative to serve our community. We’re not looking at this for a revenue stream to offset electric rates. We’re looking at this to serve our members with a true need to help them enter into this time when a broadband connection has grown from a luxury to a necessity.”

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About ReConnect

In March 2018, Congress provided $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. On Dec. 13, 2018, Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the rules of the program, called “ReConnect,” including how the loans and grants will be awarded to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America.

On April 20, 2020, USDA announced the Department has received 172 applications for $1.57 billion in Round Two of the ReConnect Program. The second round will enable USDA to implement innovative new solutions to rural connectivity by leveraging financial options with our partners and continuing the success of the first round of funding. The application window for Round Two closed on April 15.


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