As members of the New Castle-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) board gathered for their first face-to-face meeting since March, the topic at hand was broadband.
How can the county strengthen the electronic, computer-driven connectivity for all residents?
A path to the answer was laid out by Earnie Holtrey, a broadband project manager with the office of Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch.
Holtrey, a familiar face here because of his previous work as community liaison for the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), urged the EDC members to consider joining the Indiana Broadband Ready Communities Program.
He said the coronavirus has uncovered weaknesses in Hoosier capabilities where broadband is concerned.
“Things changed dramatically as we know, since March,” Holtrey said. “E-Commerce, small businesses, the more they can do online, the more successful they are likely to be.”
The broadband deficit is particularly troublesome, however, when it comes to schools.
“E-Learning is coming one way or another, whether it’s a hybrid schedule or something more permanent,” Holtrey said. “At some point and time we know a good chunk of our kids – a for a day, a week a month or a semester – are going to be doing e-learning. I’m sure in Henry County, we have areas where that is a real struggle for households, either financially or connectivity, when there’s no lines coming to their home.”
Holtrey said by joining the Broadband Ready Communities Program, a city and or a county could attract providers to do work here.
“The Broadband Ready Communities Program was created as a tool for broadband development,” he said. “Thirty-five communities have received this designation. Counties, towns and cities are eligible to apply.”
Holtrey offered some tips for an effective application process as well as ultimately attracting a company to do the work necessary for broadband improvements.
“Forming a Broadband Task Force shows the providers that you are ready and prepared to make their investment into your community as easy and seamless as possible,” he said. “Tax abatement and other incentives are important, along with surveys and data collections.”
How important is broadband capability during a time of social distancing? Holtrey said e-health answers the question loudly. He cited statistics showing the use of e-health – attending doctors appointments via computer – has jumped 10,000 percent in the last couple of months.
Other suggestions Holtrey made included:
- having a single point of contact for all matters related to broadband-development projects;
- establishment of procedures for electronic transfer of forms; and
- ensuring all permit applications are approved or denied within 10 business days.
Holtrey emphasized the Broadband Ready Communities Program was not a funding organization. Rather, it is a collaborative group – and collaboration is something he said local leaders here know all about after their Stellar Communities efforts last year, which netted a $333,000 prize.