Manning: House passes bill ensuring those who need broadband access the most are placed­ first in line

Last Updated on March 6, 2021 by State Representative Ethan Manning

SOURCE: News release from State Representative Ethan Manning

STATEHOUSE – The Indiana House of Representatives advanced legislation that would prioritize access to broadband internet for schools, students and rural clinics, according to State Rep. Ethan Manning (R-Denver).

Manning said quality access to broadband is still unavailable in many rural communities. Under this legislation, the Office of Rural and Community Affairs must consider deploying broadband to rural areas that are most in need when funding Next Level Connections grants. These grants are offered to providers and used to provide access to reliable and affordable broadband service to underserved areas of the state.

“We must find ways to connect our rural communities to reliable broadband, as it could help spur more economic growth and help deliver certain health services,” said Manning, vice chair of the House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee. “The COVID-19 outbreak shed light on this urgent need for internet access and this bill takes an important step forward to ensure we reach some of our most underserved areas.”

Manning said this would also create a portal on the OCRA website for students to self-report a lack of educational broadband service. Once reported, the data would be compiled and distributed to all the broadband companies in the state. The company who can serve the student for the lowest amount will be awarded the Next Level Connections grant from OCRA to serve the student’s household. Manning said this process is known as a reverse auction.

To help schools and clinics, the legislation would create vouchers to help cover the cost of obtaining better internet connection. According to Manning, broadband brings the opportunity for direct access to education and health care for rural residents who are otherwise forced to travel long distances for college courses and medical treatment.

Over the last few years, the General Assembly has steadily worked to improve broadband access across rural Indiana. In 2019, Gov. Eric Holcomb directed $100 million to the Next Level Connections program administered by the OCRA.

The Indiana Senate is now considering House Bill 1449. For more information, visit iga.in.gov.