The Warrick County Council approved funding for a project to improve broadband internet access across the county.
At its regular meeting Oct. 4, the council approved the first reading of a bond ordinance to put $5.4 million toward the project. The approval came after the project was presented a second time, with changes that addressed the council members' concerns about the initial proposal. The council denied funding for the project in its September meeting as council members questioned the project's limitations in covering rural parts of the county.
Warrick County Economic Development Executive Director Larry Taylor approached the council again, presenting changes to the project that will allow the county to partner with Mainstream Fiber to install 105 miles of broadband fiber throughout Warrick County. Taylor said the new proposal not only includes a decrease in the potential cost to the county but also addresses the concerns about reaching the county's rural areas.
Taylor said the revised proposal also will include the promise of a second phase that will allow microwave technology to bring internet service into the rural areas out of the reach of the broadband fiber. He said the first step is to install the fiber backbone which will then allow companies with other technologies, including 5G cell service, to implement their services through the broadband fiber.
Taylor said an analysis shows that 82 percent of the Warrick County population will be covered by the fiber backbone alone. He said he spoke with Mainstream and providers who use the microwave technology to devise a follow-up project that will utilize the fiber to transmit the internet into the uncovered areas, making Warrick County fully connected.
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"The goal is always to be one of the best counties in Indiana and in the country," he said. "I believe if we added this second phase to it, it's going to make Warrick County one of the most connected counties, certainly in Indiana and probably in the United States."
With the implementation of the microwave technology, Taylor said 99 to 100 percent of Warrick County residents would be covered. He said the broadband backbone has to be installed first before the microwave technology can be implemented, but he wanted to assure the council that rural areas are a part of the overall plan.
"That wasn't part of our original deal, but then, after hearing your concerns, that, in conjunction with what we're doing, what we're doing enables that," he said. "By bringing that into it, I think it really give us something to harp about."
Councilman Ted Metzger said he is happy to hear the changes to the project and is excited to see the services brought to the county. He said there are many residents without service options, and he hopes this project helps resolve that issue.
"We have a lot of constituents out there that need the service. They don't have any service at all, and they're not able to do it for themselves ... They need internet. It's almost, I would say, a utility anymore," he said. " ... I'm all for the project right now if we're going to be able to cover 100 or 99 percent of Warrick County at the end of this."
In addition to the change in coverage and the cost, the new proposal also included a certification of the financial feasibility of the project and a letter ensuring the fiber would be open to use by other companies for additional services in the future.
Ultimately, the council approved the funding on first reading with a 6-0 vote. Councilman Paul Rudolph was absent from the meeting.
The council will vote on final approval in its upcoming regular meeting at 6 p.m. Nov. 1.