Reliable internet access isn’t something that’s on the list of concerns for most people who don’t live in rural America.
If you choose to live in the country, far from the nearest stoplight, it’s almost a given if you want reliable internet you’ll have to pay a lot or go without.
Deb and I decided about a year ago to cancel our expensive internet service that really didn’t offer what we wanted anyway. But because of where we live, our choices are limited. We had the middle package and paid around $70 per month. And when we used all of our available data for the package, our speeds slowed to almost dial-up level. It was frustrating, to say the least.
Now we use our hotspots on our cell phones if we want to use our laptops at home. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than paying a lot for a service that wasn’t up to par.
According to a recent Purdue University study, we’re not alone. The study was conducted by the Purdue Center for Regional Development and evaluated five counties, including Greene. The others were Daviess, Knox, Lawrence, and Martin.
“It has been stated that ‘broadband access is the great equalizer,’ leveling the playing field so that every willing and able person, no matter their station in life, has access to the information and tools necessary to achieve the American dream,” the report reads.
It also says, “Southern Indiana is seeing gaps in broadband availability but without addressing the access to it, these areas will struggle to develop economically.”
The five counties included in the study comprise the Southern Indiana Development Commission’s region.
According to the study, approximately 21 percent of the region’s residents do not have access to broadband internet, instead relying on slower connections.
“Private internet providers often cite a lack of population or household density as the reason for not expanding into rural areas,” the study pointed out. “They also cited other barriers, such as right-of-way access or geographic reasons that inhibit the expansion of broadband.”
A lack of broadband availability can cause individualized problems, such as a student’s inability to complete homework, or more wide-reaching issues, such as a barrier to economic development, the report added.
According to Greg Jones, executive director of Southern Indiana Development Commission, “The really troubling statistic discovered from the study is that 9,000 of the SIDC households that have children in them have no or only one option for internet.”
Not having broadband widens the “homework gap” and also makes it difficult to grow and train the workforce for the region.
The study also noted that 50 percent of the businesses in the region do not have access to broadband.
“Not having adequate broadband connectivity today is equivalent to missing out on a railroad or four-lane highway last century,” said Roberto Gallardo, assistant director for the Center for Regional Development and a Purdue Extension community and regional economics specialist.
He is co-author of the report with Annie Cruz-Porter and Benjamin St. Germain.
“As the digital economy continues to expand, regions on the wrong side of the digital divide will be left out,” Gallardo said.
The report outlined ideas leaders in southern Indiana should consider when deciding how to increase the footprint of broadband availability, including researching a new state bill passed that might offer funding to provide broadband to underserved rural areas; looking into leveraging federal facilities to place broadband infrastructure; and promoting the region for a Microsoft project to utilize TV white space to expand broadband in rural areas; and educating the region on the issues surrounding broadband and galvanizing the region to work together to solve the issue.
According to the report, the region could see a potential economic benefit of $218 million over 15 years if all of the currently underserved households had access and subscribed to broadband service.
The study was funded by the Defense Manufacturing Assistance Program for the Martin County Alliance.
Chris is the publisher of the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at (812) 847-4487.