January 31, 2019

Legislators Seek Clarity For $100 Million In Rural Broadband Development

The bill passed 10-0 out of committee and now will go before the full Senate. - Steve Burns/WFIU-WTIU

The bill passed 10-0 out of committee and now will go before the full Senate.

Steve Burns/WFIU-WTIU

Some Indiana legislators and policy experts hope a bill moving forward from the Senate Utilities Committee will help expand rural parts of the state's access to broadband internet.

Senate Bill 460 loosens restrictions and financial burdens currently placed on providers who utilize public right of ways. That measure passed unanimously with a number of providers throwing their support behind the bill. However, it is unclear whether the move would actually increase service to rural areas.

Another bill, Senate Bill 461, that did not recieve a vote and likely won't, would have mandated any state agency distributing broadband funds to abide by a common set of parameters. Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) announced one such grant last year that would be paid for by a renegotiated Indiana Toll Road contract.

Committee Chair Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) says he believes the administration will be ultimately responsible for the allocation, thus deeming the bill unnecessary.

Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) sits on the committee. She says there are still questions on how the $100 million will be allocated.

"Whoever ultimately becomes the king that awards the grant [should] really remember to stay focused on unserved areas," she says.

Senate Bill 460 now moves for a vote before the full Senate.

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