Rural Broadband Fund Created: Grants Available! “SEA 460 (Indiana Broadband Development – 2019)”

Signed into law on May 2, 2019, SEA 460 enhances the state’s ability to develop high speed internet access in rural communities. The act does this in two ways: (1) by creating a rural broadband fund used to award grants to certain broadband service providers operating in rural areas, and (2) by issuing new guidelines to the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) regarding communications infrastructure used for broadband services.

First, the act expands I.C. § 4-4-38 “Broadband Grants for Unserved Areas” by adding a new Chapter: I.C. § 4-4-38.5. Entitled “Broadband Grants for Rural Areas”, the Chapter creates a rural broadband fund (“fund”) administered by the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (“Office”) for the purpose of awarding grants to broadband service providers. The Chapter states that before July 21, 2019, the Office must establish procedures for awarding the grants, and that those procedures must prioritize certain broadband service projects over others. I.C. 4-4-38.5-9. Projects that extend broadband service to rural areas where internet connections are unavailable or where connection speeds are less than ten megabits per second will be prioritized over areas with higher connection speeds. However, the Office cannot award grants to projects already receiving federal funding or in areas where broadband service is already available. Finally, the Office must publish all grant application to its website and cannot discriminate awards based on the technology used to provide broadband service.

The act also amends I.C. § 8-23-5 “State Highways” by adding an additional section. I.C. 8-23-5-10 allows INDOT to create a broadband corridor program (“program”) to manage the installation and maintenance of communications infrastructure used for broadband services. The program only applies to infrastructure along or within a limited-access highway (interstate, toll road, U.S. 30, or U.S. 31). INDOT may impose a one-time permit fee for installing the infrastructure and routine permit fees for maintenance, but cannot impose additional fees for access to state roads or U.S. routes. Similar to I.C. § 4-4-38.5, INDOT cannot discriminate among entities requesting access to broadband corridors based on the type of broadband technology used. In tandem, these amendments encourage broadband providers to expand into underserved parts of Indiana while limiting potential obstacles.

 

Jeremy Fetty is a partner in the law firm of Parr Richey with offices in Indianapolis and Lebanon. Mr. Fetty is current Chair of the Firm Utility and Business Section and often advises businesses and utilities (for profit, non-profit and cooperative) on regulatory, compliance, and transactional matters.

The statements contained herein are matters of opinion and general information only and are not to be considered legal advice and should not be construed to form an attorney-client relationship. If you have any questions regarding this article, please contact an attorney.