INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Rudd, Indiana’s director of broadband opportunities, was the keynote speaker at an AgrIInstitute luncheon Nov. 16.
Rudd was appointed to the position by Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch in late August. His job is to help attract reliable, affordable high speed internet to the state, including rural Indiana.
“It has been a very interesting first 60 days of my job,” he said.
“Day one on the job I was standing next to the lieutenant governor, who was about to announce me as the director of broadband opportunities. She leaned over and said ‘you should know, we’re about to announce $100 million in broadband funding.’
“I don’t know what my face looked like at that moment, but I was floored. To start off day one, minute one, with that was a dream come true for rural Indiana.”
What Is Broadband?
The Federal Communications Commission defines broadband as internet with a minimum speed of 25 megabytes per second.
Rudd defines it is the ability for a family to use the internet simultaneously.
“In a nutshell, broadband is having the ability for your children to play a game or do their homework at the same time that you check your email,” he said.
“If at any time you have said to a family member ‘would you mind signing off?’ you don’t have broadband.”
What’s Our Current Status?
According to the FCC, the U.S. ranked 10th out of 28 countries surveyed in terms of broadband access. Indiana ranks 35th out of 50 states.
“Within our region, all of our neighbors are ahead of us in terms of rural broadband access: Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky are all ahead,” Rudd said.
“We have about 58 percent access to broadband for rural Indiana, which is extremely low. Southern Indiana has major challenges, as well as the north and northeast corner.
“Crawford County is the single worst county in the state. One percent of the county has access to broadband, which is really terrible.”
The landscape for broadband access is challenging in Indiana, he said.
If the state continues down this path, Rudd expects the problem to get worse.
“We are competing for dollars with other countries – private dollars with other states and in some cases with other counties,” he said.
“We have providers with limited funding, and we actually have public dollars now nationwide and statewide. This is a challenge we’re going to need to rise and meet.”
Why Is Broadband Important?
Access to high-speed internet is crucial for rural communities.
“If you know a realtor, ask them if they’ve ever lost a prospective sale because there wasn’t high-speed internet access,” Rudd said. “It’s always a yes.
“That family that wanted to live in your community is lost. They go somewhere else. When we lose a family, we lose maybe two kids in our schools. Our schools are funded through enrollment.
“I think the lack of broadband is the single largest threat to rural businesses today.
“Not just your ability to grow or stay there, but to just exist in these areas.”
At some point soon, a business will not be able to operate without internet, he said.
Internet access also affects young people who need access to do homework, and elderly people who are socially isolated.
What Can Community Leaders Do?
Those who want bring internet access to rural Indiana have a long road ahead of them, but there are steps to get started.
“In Brown County we started with nothing and didn’t know what to do,” Rudd said. “Just knowing you’re not alone is a key part of this.
“The first thing we wanted to do was bring a group of stakeholders together, so we formed a broadband task force.”
The force included Farm Bureau members, community foundation leaders, the county commissioner, school corporation leaders, utility consultants and more.
“This is an economic development opportunity,” Rudd said. “It’s just like attracting a business. It’s one of the most important things we can do to help families living in these communities.
“Your communities hopefully know how to handle economic development issues. When the phone rings, answer it. When there’s someone on the other line who is interested, ask how you can be helpful. That’s the most important thing you can do.”
“We are now flushed with resources. The timing could not be better than right now for your communities to begin to engage in this process.”