As we are finishing up with the school year, we have learned just how vital internet access is to students. For those in the eastern half of Hendricks County, internet access is second nature. We use it to stream movies, play online video games, Zoom meetings, and complete school work with the myriad of available online resources. Many in the western half of the county are not so lucky. Internet access is limited to many. With families sharing home internet access between multiple students, the bandwidth quickly begins to slow down.
Internet broadband speeds are getting faster every year. More people in the urban sectors of the nation enjoy the increasingly faster speeds as they are rolled out. This allows many to work from home, educate their children quickly, and stream entertainment with very little reduction in speed. This is not the case for those in rural regions who are at the mercy of the larger Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who control the market through large corporate funds and direct access to federal and state legislators.
Some are looking to the emerging 5G wireless connection as the answer to many rural Americans in order to close the technology gap. 5G has its limits. It does provide much higher internet speeds but has a shorter range. 5G will use existing cell towers, but more towers will need to be constructed to spread the range throughout rural America. Also, the technology is still being developed. Even after development is complete, wireless providers will have to invest in more infrastructure to bring 5G to rural Americans. This also means higher prices. Hendricks County will be no different. County residents will have to wait for 5G to answer many of their needs, but at a price that may not be obtainable.
A more immediate answer for Hendricks County is a fiber optic network directly to the home. Hendricks Power is teaming up with Endeavor Communications to bring a fiber optic network to over 5,000 households in the next four years. This is a large investment for the co-op to provide its members with a service they have been requesting. Residents and businesses need faster internet access. Residents need it to educate their children, and to have an option to work from home. Businesses need the access to compete in an ever-growing digital economy. Hendricks Power is stepping up to invest in the local rural economy when many of the larger corporations have largely ignored them.
It could take over a decade for Hendricks Power to see profit from this investment. The state has grant funding set aside in the expansion of rural broadband, but the county should help as well. Through tax exemptions of property and grants, the Board of Commissioners can help speed up the process of expanding rural broadband here. Hendricks County is halfway there in their support by granting a tax exemption, but we should also consider a grant to Hendricks Power to help speed up their fiber optic network. It may not be at the level of the state’s grants, but we still need to help where we can. It would be much faster and easier to give the funds immediately instead of waiting on the State.