Feb. 23—ANDERSON — Madison County will soon be even more digitally connected, which will aid economic development officials in their efforts to attract residents to rural places in the area.
Under the terms of recently finalized agreements between Comcast and the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), the telecommunications giant will bring gigabit-capable broadband service to previously unserved parts of Indiana.
That includes nearly 1,000 addresses in or near Lapel, Orestes and Summitville.
"There are both residential and business impacts here," said Clayton Whitson, president and CEO of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce.
"The pandemic showed that we as a country need to adapt to having the ability to work from home and be online instantly and reliably."
The planned projects in Madison County are part of the state's Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program, in which Comcast is establishing partnerships with local governments to build broadband infrastructure that will provide service to more than 10,000 homes and businesses across 19 counties.
With the latest round of grants, Comcast and the state are combining to invest nearly $50 million to expand the company's network with more than 1,200 miles of fiber to previously unwired communities.
"From a residence standpoint, that's huge," said Noah Bozell, president of the Lapel Town Council. "The internet here isn't the greatest. Our upload speeds, download speeds aren't as good as if you drive over to Anderson or Noblesville.
"For the businesses in town, a lot of their work is going to web-based software," he added. "That's something that's going to be very important to our town."
Over the past three years, Comcast has fulfilled similar contracts to bring high-speed internet to rural locations in Boone, Montgomery and Perry counties.
The Next Level Connections program has been copied by other states in their efforts to enhance tech infrastructure, state officials noted.
"The investments made by Comcast and other partners will not only benefit residents and businesses but also contribute to Indiana's rural economic engine," Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch said in a news release.
Comcast plans to begin work immediately on preconstruction priorities connected to these projects, officials said. The company anticipates completing the expansion within two years.
High-speed internet is increasingly viewed as a necessity — not a luxury — by many economic development officials in their efforts to lure new residents and workers to the area.
The option of working remotely is valued by professionals across a variety of industries, Whitson said. But other daily life activities — shopping, telehealth, business, entertainment — are also becoming digitized.
"This is a major talent attraction piece for the communities that are being impacted," Whitson said.
"It's showing new residents that they can have that work from home option. They're making location decisions based on that connectivity. The internet now is ingrained into our lives in so many different ways, and that's not going away anytime soon."
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