Commissioners back Jackson County REMC grant application


BROWNSTOWN — Jackson County REMC’s multi-year project to bring fast and reliable high-speed internet to the 20,000-plus customers it serves in 10 counties is coming to a close.

The Brownstown-based electric and internet utility, however, still has a couple of rural areas that need to be connected to the fiber-optic broadband system and plans to pursue funding for those projects through a fourth round of Indiana’s Next Level Connections grant program.

Mark McKinney, president and CEO of Jackson County REMC, recently sought and received support from the Jackson County Commissioners for the company’s grant application.

McKinney told commissioners other internet providers could challenge Jackson County REMC Fiber, as the company is called, in a competitive process to determine who fills those gaps of unserved or underserved areas.

The internet provider with the highest score based upon several factors, including the technology to be provided and the availability of local matching funds by the provider, would be determined by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. That agency, known as OCRA, administers the grant program.

“Whoever has the higher score would get the grant funding,” he said. “We have been very successful in the first three rounds, and the vast majority of that was to serve Jackson County REMC’s electric service area.”

That area includes all of Jackson County, with the exception of the municipalities and adjacent areas served by Duke Energy, and parts of Bartholomew, Brown, Clark, Jennings, Jefferson, Lawrence, Monroe, Scott and Washington counties.

McKinney said the project to bring reliable high-speed internet to its customers, which was announced in June 2017, is nearly finished. Construction of the project, which had an initial cost estimate nearly $60 million, started in November 2017.

“We’re basically done except for a small area in Jennings County where we are doing a major distribution line rebuild, so we are holding off to build that out, but our board has now said, ‘Let’s focus on the pockets of unserved or underserved,’” he said.

One of those areas, dubbed the Highway 50 corridor by Jackson County REMC Fiber, starts at a substation at Chestnut Ridge in the western part of Jackson County. The area, which includes 214 addresses that are unserved or underserved based upon FCC data, would go west from there and then back toward Brownstown, McKinney said.

There also are 21 addresses south of Brownstown off of County Road 50W near Skyline Drive.

“Most of those addresses there are considered unserved or underserved,” McKinney said.

Commissioner Matt Reedy said he had reviewed the plans of two other providers of internet for the unserved or underserved, and neither plan was very good.

Reedy’s motion to support Jackson County REMC Fiber’s plans was seconded by Commissioner Bob Gillaspy and approved 3-0 with President Drew Markel’s vote.

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