Connected for Christmas? State Pushes for Rural Broadband Contract

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Vanderburgh County (IN) officials are negotiating a contract with Watch Communications to expand rural broadband to unserved and underserved areas, reported the Courier & Press. The county will fund the project with $1.6 million from the County Redevelopment Commission. Watch Communications anticipates adding towers and devices to existing structures to ramp up service. 

“We’re not trying to reach the greatest number of people in the densest area. It’s the reverse, people who have been left out entirely or nearly left out,” County Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave said.  

The county places broadband improvement as a priority, with the pandemic exacerbating the need for connectivity. “We view it [broadband] as critical infrastructure,” said Audrie Burkett, vice president and chief operating officer of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana.The county initiated an RFP for the broadband project after failing to obtain a state grant, reported the Courier & Press. Inaccurate coverage maps omitted the county from contention for state funds. According to Burkett, the maps “overstate what our availability is.”

“If you look at mapping for our area, it looks like everybody has coverage, and we know that is not the case. So we started collecting our own data,” she added. 

Burkett said the coalition has been working on a broadband plan for the past 18 months and anticipates the county commissioners could award a contract by December 8.

“What we have said is we’d like to get people connected as soon as possible,” Burkett said.

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