HANCOCK COUNTY — NineStar Connect, a county utility provider, has had its eye on the future of internet use in rural Indiana for nearly 20 years.

Since 1998, the business has installed $54 million, or more than 1,500 miles, of fiber optic cable for internet and TV services for more than 8,000 customers.

And by the end of 2017, the nonprofit utility company will meet a major goal it set with those first miles of fiber optic cable, or bundles of thin glass threads used to transmit information, it buried in 1998: it will provide fiber optic internet service directly to the homes of every customer in its Hancock County territory, which covers about 75 percent of the county.

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Fiber optic cable can send information more quickly than copper cable because it sends data through pulses of light, rather than electrical impulses, said NineStar Connect spokesman David Spencer. Another advantage of the fiber optic technology is that while copper cable lasts 60 to 70 years, fiber optics have an unlimited lifespan, he added. The business offers up to a gigabit of bandwidth, or the rate of information exchanged per second over a connection, to the businesses and homes in its 10-county territory, he said.

Providing a dedicated line to every home or business in its territory differentiates NineStar Connect from its competition, because other companies make homes in a neighborhood or subdivision share dedicated lines of buried copper cable, which means slower internet service, he said.

The availability of high-speed fiber optic internet services provides more to the community than just less buffer time while watching streaming video at the end of a long day, CEO Michael Burrow said.

He compared the internet to the progress that has followed the paths of railroads and interstates throughout American history — where those innovations are available, cities and towns flourish, he said.

Within the last 15 to 20 years, NineStar Connect — and before its merger with Central Indiana Power, Hancock Telecom — has taken every available opportunity to lay a “backbone,” or heavy, high-capacity buried fiber optic cable, throughout the territories it serves, Burrow said.

NineStar currently serves Fayette, Hamilton, Hancock, Henry, Johnson, Madison, Marion, Morgan, Rush and Shelby counties.

“Connectivity to fiber is going to be so critical in the future as software developers and different applications continue to be dependent on that backbone and as more and more people think of different uses for the internet,” Burrow predicted.

And by providing high-speed internet to the community and businesses in these counties, NineStar Connect is encouraging new businesses to choose those areas for development, said Skip Kuker, Hancock County Economic Development Council executive director.

According to Kuker, the availability of fiber optic has been crucial to attracting businesses to area business parks and other centers of commerce. He said the way NineStar’s fiber optic cable has been laid out across Hancock County ensures if there’s a breakage in the cable, businesses’ internet service can be re-routed without a delay.

“Their fiber optic cable’s capability is incredible,” he said. “We are in a very enviable position due to the fact that we have so much bandwidth. This availability means other areas will be better off as well.”

Burrow said the expansion of its broadband service keeps with the utility’s mission to provide the infrastructure needed to empower economic development in Central Indiana. NineStar Connect is the only rural co-op in the United States to offer fiber optic, electricity, water and sewer utility services, in an effort to help rural communities grow, Burrow said.

“No matter where you choose to live or work, you should be connected to the best essential services needed for communities to thrive,” said Burrow.

NineStar Connect, a nonprofit electric and telecommunications cooperative, aims to provide a local alternative to national competitors for rural customers throughout Indiana, Burrow said.

Since the merger between Central Indiana Power and Hancock Telecom created NineStar Connect in 2011, the nonprofit’s board of directors has worked to make Hancock County attractive to current residents and workers, as well as those who consider living here in the future, Burrow said.

Dollars invested in utility structures like fiber optic cable might not immediately benefit county residents, but Burrow believes residents’ children, grandchildren — perhaps even their great-grandchildren — will see the value in such investment.

“What we’ve decided is that we’re not just a broadband company, we’re not just electric,” he said. “We’re a rural utility provider, thinking about what kind of connectivity we can provide to help rural communities grow and prosper.”

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.