Can rural Indiana keep up in information age?

Successful deployment of statewide broadband service is within reach for Indiana.

However, the state must take a proactive, leadership stance to provide the necessary incentives to bring public and private resources together to reach this goal. Without a comprehensive state broadband strategic plan, each region would be left to the costly and time-consuming task of charting its own course independently.

Within the framework of federal law, and building upon the legislative achievements already made in the state, Indiana can take steps, outlined below, to establish a more meaningful, multifaceted and effective statewide policy to stimulate consumer demand for broadband and to provide a variety of incentives for consumers, businesses and Internet service providers to enjoy, provide and expand high-speed broadband across the state.

To that end, here are suggestions for legislative and regulatory action:

Indiana should authorize and fund a survey of each economic development region to ascertain the level and characteristics of demand and feasibility for broadband services

The state should make all state-owned buildings and state-owned lands available for wireless broadband and mobile phone facility siting and for deployment of fiber, cable and other broadband-capable transport facilities.

The statewide policy and plan should encourage electric/telecommunications cooperatives to deploy broadband in rural and other areas of the state, so as to expand and improve broadband service and create greater broadband competition.

The state should offer debt financing, if necessary, to municipalities that can demonstrate use of sound financial and technical plans to deploy broadband services so as to expand/improve broadband service and create greater broadband competition.

The state also should consider, where consistent with reasoned state budget priorities, state grants and/or capital lease financing to help deploy broadband. Similarly, the state should consider providing state tax credits, loan guarantees, project debt financing and “private use” tax exemptions for broadband infrastructure projects.

Indiana should consider providing state tax credits to consumers and to businesses contributing to the costs of extending broadband access to their locations.

The Indiana legislature should also consider providing tax and other incentives to consumers and businesses Investing in on-premises and mobile hardware and software to enable their full access to – and their ability to gain full benefits from – broadband. Similarly, Indiana should consider the provision of tax and other incentives to broadband/Internet-related software and “app” developers within the state.

As part of its statewide plan for broadband adoption/expansion, the Indiana legislature should adopt clear policies and rules that will foster the optimal mix of fiber and wireless broadband systems/technologies to serve particular geographic areas within the state.

The state should use such an “all of the above” approach also for the deployment of a set of infrastructure paths that also could lead to the state leading the country in creating “all-Internet-Protocol” telecommunications connectivity.

Indiana should create, and provide sufficient state funding for, digital literacy education programs to educate Indiana residents and businesses as to the benefits and uses of broadband Internet.

Moreover, and consistent with a recommendation in the final report of the Indiana Rural Broadband Working Group, we strongly urge the state to create a “Rural and Urban Broadband Center.” The center would help educate and guide the state, its counties, municipalities, economic development officials and citizens, as well as potential broadband investors.

Given the economic structure of Indiana, failing to participate fully in promoting and using multiple funding strategies and incentives likely would delay for decades Indiana’s full participation in the information economy and achieving a nation-leading broadband future for the state.

Robert E. Yadon is director of the Digital Policy Institu

te, professor of Information and Communication Sciences at Ball State University and an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Barry D. Umansky is a senior fellow of DPI, professor of telecommunications at Ball State and a communications attorney.

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