Randy Kron: Indiana needs broadband to the last acre

Rural broadband access is essential to the farms that grow our food, farm families and the quality of life for rural Hoosiers.

According to the 2022 Ag Census, 28% of farms in Indiana don’t have reliable broadband. Technology and connectivity are more important today than ever before in precision agriculture, for remote work, telehealth and education.

We wanted broadband for years in rural Vanderburgh County where my family farms. Remote work was challenging and even hindered my ability to do my job as the president of Indiana Farm Bureau, the largest general ag organization in the state. I tried to get a few different companies on board to expand access in our area, but no one would commit.

Finally, our county council and county commissioners decided to set aside some of the American Rescue Plan Act money for broadband. The council received several proposals, but ultimately AT&T said they could provide fiber to the whole county in two years.

Since the project’s completion in November 2023, our broadband connection in Vanderburgh County has improved dramatically and changed the way we work. Now that we’ve seen success in our county, I know it can be replicated in the rest of the 91 counties in the state.

In 2021, INFB partnered with the Indiana Broadband Strategic Partnership to sponsor the Indiana Speed Test. Many of our members took the test and the data collected was used by local groups to plan projects and to advise the Office of Community and Rural Affairs about potential grants for areas most in need.

Now, the Indiana Broadband Office has $868 million in federal funding to distribute to eligible projects in Indiana with the goal of reaching every unserved or underserved address. Those locations need to be identified with new speed tests. That’s a huge amount of money that could help us get broadband closer to the last acre. But we need people to take this new speed test on connectingIndiana.com by April 17.

If you live in an area that could use better internet access, review your address on connectingindiana.com. If your address is labeled as “served” and you don’t believe you have access to 100/20 Mbps service, contact [email protected] so they can connect you with a local group to submit a challenge on your behalf. The Purdue Center for Regional Development also has a new tool on its website that provides step-by-step instructions on submitting documentation.

Once the challenge process is over and the addresses are finalized, providers can begin submitting bids for specific projects.

It’s incredible how broadband access can impact a community. I’m so grateful for what we now have in Vanderburgh County because I’ve been on the other side when I couldn’t connect to anything. We have an opportunity here to make our rural communities throughout Indiana more viable.

We just have to seize the moment and take advantage of it. That moment is now.

Randy Kron is the president of Indiana Farm Bureau. Send comments to [email protected].