Lacking Access: Here’s How CAF Funding Should Help Rural Areas

This was published by the Kokomo Perspective on February 26, 2019
by Devin Zimmerman

Howard County, Ind. –  Tim Hinton came to last week’s meeting of the Howard County Commissioners with a problem.

At his home, he doesn’t have access to high-speed internet. When his niece stays with him in the fall, she simply can’t get her school work done there during eLearning days, and he is forced to take her to one of the local libraries so she can access the internet.

Soon, however, that problem may be fixed.

Hinton is far from alone in dealing with a lack of internet access. In fact, about 70 percent of Howard County has been qualified as underserved in terms of internet accessibility. But, within four years federal funding is expected to largely negate this issue, providing wireless internet access to rural Howard County residents.

That funding comes by way of the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect (FCC) America Fund 2 (CAF 2). It’s the second phase of an initiative that began in the early 2000s aimed at improving internet access in underserved markets.

In 2018 the FCC held an auction to dole out CAF 2 funding, where internet service providers would be tasked with putting infrastructure in place that would expand internet access. Watch Communications, based out of Lima, Ohio, won a bid to tackle Howard County’s market, aiming to improve internet accessibility for rural residents.

According to Frank Glaszner, vice president of sales and marketing for Watch Communications, census data was used to determine which areas are underserved, with about 70 percent of Howard County residents not meeting one of two thresholds set by the FCA, either 25 megabit download speeds with three megabit upload or 100 megabit download speeds with 20 upload. This problem persists in the county almost everywhere outside of Kokomo’s city limits.

Graszner said Howard County’s problem isn’t unique either.

“This is a Midwest crisis for sure. This is a national crisis, but it is definitely a Midwest crisis,” said Glaszner. “I would say that Howard County, even though they’re very progressive, you’re suffering from many of the same limitations.”

The problem arises from low population density areas, typically rural, where internet service providers would struggle to recoup costs involved with infrastructure investment.

But now that Watch Communications has received $52.4 million in funding from the FCC, which will be utilized by the company to create internet infrastructure in Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois, work soon will be underway to correct the issue.

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