Many lawmakers have been calling for improved access to high-speed internet for rural communities across the US. Indiana has even created a new position, Director of Broadband Opportunities, that will serve as the “go-to” person in state government for everything broadband related.
Jim Turner is the President and CEO of Indiana Fiber Network. IFN is not the company that will directly provide high-speed internet at your house or farm, but they do provide the backbone to many of those companies that will. Turner says getting that access to your farm will not be an easy task.
“Rural telephone companies serve about 5 percent of the access lines in the United States, but they represent about 40 percent of the land mass. I use that statistic because I think it gives you a sense of what the challenge is. The challenge is that it’s very expensive to build out high speed, and in our case high-speed fiber, networks. Hypothetically, think of it as maybe $40,000-$50,000 a mile to extend fiber facilities.”
Turner says lawmakers are trying to figure out how to update old regulatory constructs to meet customers where they are now, which is to provide rural customers with the same type of service, at the same type of cost, as those in metro areas. He adds that incentives to internet providers will be a key part of any legislation.
“In the absence of incentives, it would be a very profit destroying business for these companies. So, we want to incentivize them to build even to those harder to serve areas.”
Turner says the industry needs to get creative in how to expand access. They recently contracted with Whitley County to provide broadband connectivity to businesses in their business park, and they look forward to other partnerships that will provide more connectivity to more people and businesses.
“One of the things we’re seeing take place in Indiana is that the rural electric companies have begun showing an interest in building out fiber networks to their members. So, we’re looking at that not as a threat, but as potential partnership opportunities to help support those companies. They already have, obviously, some infrastructure in place with poles and lines in their particular areas. They already serve very hard to serve parts of the state with electricity. So, there may be an opportunity for partnership.”
IFN is set to make a $100 million investment over the next 5 years to build out their network.