Johnson County Commissioners approve $1M for local broadband

The county commissioners OK’d giving a local internet company a $1 million grant from American Rescue Plan Act funds Monday.

The Johnson County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed an ordinance authorizing the distribution of $1 million in federal funds to JCFiber, a local internet company that is a subsidiary of JCREMC. While the commissioners passed the ordinance, the expenditure will also need approval from the county council, the county’s fiscal body.

The American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, is a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package that delivered direct relief to Americans and distributed billions to states to respond to the pandemic and to give to cities, towns and counties to respond to the pandemic. Indiana officials distributed $1.28 billion to communities, including about $30.7 million for Johnson County.

The money can be used for a variety of purposes, including responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency, negative economic impacts of the emergency, providing premium pay to employees, off-setting lost government revenue, and upgrading water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

There also is a provision approved in January that allows for up to $10 million in discretionary funds to be used for the provision of government services. It is very broad and gives the county some leeway for some projects, said Shena Johnson, the county’s attorney.

The county has been coming up with ways to spend the money since late last year and created a joint commissioners-county council committee to generate ideas and narrow down the projects. Last month, the county authorized $366,000 in funds to be used for three projects: the update of the county’s watershed maps, preliminary work on an addition to the Johnson County Animal Shelter and preliminary work for a new county government building on Drake Road in Franklin.

JCFiber came to the joint ARPA committee in February with a request for $2 million to expand its service areas to give underserved county residents more internet options. There are about 3,000 to 4,000 underserved residents in the county, and the project would create a partnership between the county and JCFiber to close the digital divide, John Sturm, JCFiber president, said earlier this year.

It would also create economic development and more education opportunities for the county and its residents, he said.

The county ultimately decided to split the $2 million into two separate payments, with the second one under discussion for later this year. Commissioner Ron West expressed concerns about how the funds would benefit residents in March, leading to the decision to split up the payments.

The funds will be used by JCFiber to finish up work in two expansion zones, Zones 2 and 3, Sturm said in February.

Zone 2 encompasses an area south of State Road 44 to the Johnson-Brown county line and stretches east-to-west from just east of the Johnson-Morgan county line to near Nineveh. The main section of Zone 3 encompasses an area from just south of State Road 44 up to County Road 300 North in Bargersville and stretches east-to-west from near North 400 West to the Johnson-Morgan county line. The smaller section of Zone 3 that is located north of Zone 1 includes an area near state roads 37 and 144 near the Johnson-Morgan county line, according to JCFiber.

JCFiber began work in Zone 2 last year, and sign-ups for Zone 3 began earlier this year, according to the company.