A study released Monday by the Purdue Center for Regional Development estimates Indiana could gain nearly $12 billion in economic benefits if broadband were deployed in the rural areas of the state. The report, commissioned by Indiana Electric Cooperatives and Tipmont REMC and funded by CoBank, further estimates a return of nearly $4 to the local economy for every dollar spent on the necessary infrastructure.
“These findings validate the feedback from our consumers that reliable internet service is as vital to modern economic development, education and health care as electricity,” said Tom VanParis, CEO of Indiana Electric Cooperatives.
“The areas of the state that lack affordable and reliable high-speed internet are largely the same as those served by electric cooperatives. It is fundamentally important to us to improve the overall economic health, vitality and quality of life in the communities we serve.”
Indiana’s 38 electric cooperatives distribute electricity in 89 of the state’s 92 counties, or about 80 percent of the landmass. When internet is unavailable, too slow or too expensive, the impacts are harmful to these economically-disadvantaged areas with already-declining populations.
“Across rural communities in this country, the need for access to reliable internet is undeniable,” said Bill LaDuca, sector vice president for electric distribution at CoBank. “This groundbreaking study has immediate implications for rural Indiana’s healthcare, education, economy and way of life. It also has implications nation-wide as to the economic return of this vital infrastructure investment.”
During its 2018 session, Indiana’s legislature established a state broadband grant program intended to support the expansion of broadband throughout rural Indiana. This grant program was established without meaningful funding, and the electric cooperatives have encouraged state policymakers to provide significant funding to the program.
“The study clearly shows the return on the investment to the state is significant and justifies a meaningful state investment to supporting broadband deployment in Indiana,” VanParis said.
Solutions to close the rural digital divide would allow underserved or unserved Hoosiers the same opportunities that exist in connected communities:
- Modern Health Care. Barriers that limit access to advances in modern health care in medically-underserved areas of the state would be diminished. Rural Hoosiers would be able to take advantage of prompt access to specialists and expanded monitoring and treatment options.
- Modern Education. Technology would be available to keep rural students from falling behind their urban peers and would ultimately improve student performance. Adult learners would also have access to distance education options that could improve job skills and opportunities for personal growth.
- Economic Development. The path around barriers hindering rural economic development begins with closing the rural digital divide. With quality internet service, local small businesses can enter a global marketplace, agricultural and business income opportunities expand, rural areas will become attractive homes for skilled employees and their families, and more.
The study was commissioned by Indiana Electric Cooperatives and Tipmont REMC with financial support from CoBank. Tipmont REMC, Henry County REMC, Jackson County REMC, Marshall County REMC, Noble REMC, Orange County REMC and Whitewater Valley REMC were examined for the report.