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County Commissioners approve second broadband project

The Vanderburgh County Commissioners unanimously approved a $39.6 million contract Tuesday for AT&T to be the provider for a second broadband project that will bring high-speed internet service to unincorporated areas of Vanderburgh County.

The project, funded through a $29.7 million investment from AT&T and $9.9 million of public funding available through the federal American Rescue Plan Act, will offer residents the option of up to two Gbps (Gigabits per second) and businesses up to five Gbps of symmetrical service speeds.

The all-fiber expanded broadband project will be completed in two years and provide service to an estimated 21,000 residents, which covers most of the unincorporated county.

“Without internet access, our children have restricted educational opportunities, (and) our residents have less access to many resources, including banking and health care,” Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave said after the contract was approved. “Our rural community has been left behind due to the cost of providing wired broadband access, much like they were a hundred years ago when electrical wires were first strung in cities, and only reaching the rural areas decades later.”

The Commissioners awarded a similar contract to Ohio-based internet provider Watch Communications in May totaling $586,060. The project will provide Watch customers with wireless internet speeds up to 100 megabits per second for downloads and 10 megabits per second for uploads. It is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

“We think this is so incredibly important in particular in what it brings to the rural area of Vanderburgh County and hopefully, this will continue to be a model for our entire region,” says Greg Wathen, president of the Evansville Regional Economic Partnership.

The Commission’s efforts to expand internet excess are a direct result of Vanderburgh County’s 2018 passage of its 2018 Broadband Ready Ordinance, which readied the county for Indiana’s Broadband Ready Communities Program. The certification sends a signal to the telecommunications industry that a community has taken steps to reduce barriers to broadband infrastructure investment. For example, the ordinance created a 10-day permitting process and a tax exemption for new broadband investment.

“We struggle with getting workers to our area and so do companies large and small,” says Bill Pedtke, executive director of the Southwestern Indiana Builders Association. “This will be a huge attraction to our county and it also opens up every corner of our county.”

Read more about Vanderburgh County’s rural broadband expansion efforts in the August/September 2021 issue of Evansville Business.

Photo courtesy of Tim Westerhoff/Creative Commons.

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