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Daviess County, Ind., Works to Close Rural Broadband Void

Many rural areas of the state have struggled with broadband accessibility. Major Internet service providers have concentrated their efforts on the more metropolitan areas with a denser customer base.

by Mike Grant, Washington Times-Herald / June 10, 2020

(TNS) — Daviess County is slowly crawling back toward normal. Businesses began reopening over the last couple of weeks. Offices that sent many workers to their homes to carry out their jobs have begun to call them back in to the businesses. One little piece at a time the area has begun to try and go back to where they were before the coronavirus pandemic swept the country.

One of the things that allowed the county to keep in business was technology. From school kids doing e-Learning to their parents running the business from the living room, the county saw the importance of being connected with the rest of the world.

“This pandemic has created challenges in virtually every aspect of our lives,” said Daviess County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Bryant Niehoff. “It has really exacerbated the need for broadband accessibility for everyone.”

Many rural areas of Indiana have struggled to get broadband accessibility. Major companies have concentrated their efforts on Indiana’s more metropolitan areas.

“In my viewpoint companies are going to be looking for more opportunities to have people work remotely and away from the office in the future,” said Daviess County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joe Morris. “This is going to become the new normal and that is going to make Internet access a big deal.”

During the pandemic with schools closed, the students relied on access to online sources to do their e-Learning assignments. Barr-Reeve has a local Internet provider that has reached out into many of the rural areas to provide service but it still isn’t in every corner of the district.

“Every one of our students had a device,” said Barr-Reeve Superintendent Dr. Travis Madison. “But we had about 15 or 20 percent that worked offline. We hope we don’t ever have to do this again, but it is part of the future and the way kids are going to learn. Some people have referred to education this spring as the haves (those with broadband) and the have nots (without broadband). I don’t believe it is that pronounced but I do know that internet access and connectivity is something all of Indiana’s small rural schools struggle with.”

The expansion of technology and the opportunity to work remotely could well be a key in helping Daviess County to grow in the future.

“Business, education, health care, it’s all tied to broadband and access is important,” said Morris. “As a community we need to look at every opportunity, every grant to find a way to expand it. I think this pandemic has shown that broadband is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. It simply is part of our new normal.”

One of the things that happened during the pandemic was that as businesses looked to spread out and limit potential virus exposure to employees, they found that some employees did not have access to the Internet at home. Some of those companies instead wound up renting office space in the community for those workers.

Others reported that if they had the kids doing school work and the family trying to do business at the same time that the system wasn’t robust enough to handle the demand and slowed down dramatically.

“This has shown us from an economic standpoint we have to focus on broadband accessibility for everyone,” said Niehoff. “Even before the pandemic there was a shift across the state to more broadband accessibility, so that we can market communities to people who are working remotely.”

The Economic Development Corporation has an action plan of things it wants to see done in the community. The priority for getting broadband into every corner of the county just went up.

“We had it as part of our organizational agenda, but after going through this it has to go up the priority list,” said Niehoff.

“We need to get the key stakeholders throughout Daviess County to together and build toward this,” added Morris.

©2020 Washington Times-Herald (Washington, Ind.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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