County wins big on broadband grants

Tony London

On April 26, 2022, this story was corrected to give the correct name of MAINSTREAM FIBER NETWORK.


Bartholomew County is a big, big winner.

Those are the exact words used by county Commissioner Tony London after he learned how much money will be received locally in Round Three of the Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program.

Also serving as chairman of the Bartholomew County Broadband Initiative Committee, London said slightly over a million dollars in state funds was awarded locally during Round One of the state program, while nothing was provided for Columbus and surrounding areas during Round Two.

“But in Round Three, it looks like Bartholomew County could be the recipient of nearly $6 million of Next Level grants,” London said.

Most of this money will be used to provide high-speed internet service to southwest portions of the county, which London described as seriously underserved.

“But that area is about to be lit up like a Christmas tree,” he said.

Some money will be spent for adding pockets of gig-speed internet to other portions of the county, London added.

The following nine grants that require matching local funds from internet companies will provide gig-speed internet service in unserved areas of south central Indiana.

  • AT&T: $1,148,639 for Bartholomew, Johnson and Owen counties, will reach 154 households and six businesses. Requires matching funds of $287,160. Total: $1,435,799.
  • COMCAST (Grant 1): $1,193,483 for Bartholomew County only, will reach 53 households and 138 businesses. Requires matching funds of $3,580,450. Total: $4,773,933.
  • COMCAST (Grant 2): $1,604,541 for Jennings County only, will expand broadband access to 281 households and 19 business. Requires matching funds of $687,660. Total: $2,292,201.
  • JACKSON COUNTY REMC: $2,397,683 for Brown, Jackson, Jennings, Lawrence and Washington counties, will reach 882 households and 46 businesses. Requires matching funds of $2,397,870. Total: $4,965,553.
  • MAINSTREAM FIBER NETWORK (Grant 1): $1,959,090 for Bartholomew County only, will reach 79 households and six businesses. Requires matching funds of $1,959,089. Total: $3,918,180.
  • MAINSTREAM FIBER NETWORK (Grant 2): $1,527,778 for Bartholomew County only, will reach 142 households and 12 businesses. Requires matching funds of $2,226,209. Total: 3,753,987.
  • MILES COMMUNICATIONS (Grant 1): $955,312 for Bartholomew County only, will reach 140 households and 33 businesses. Requires matching funds of $636,895. Total: $1,592,187.
  • MILES COMMUNICATIONS (Grant 2) $272,875 for Decatur and Jennings counties, will reach three households and 14 businesses. Requires matching funds of $68,219. Total: $341,094.
  • SOUTHEASTERN INDIANA REMC: $1,512,221 for Franklin, Jefferson, Jennings, Ohio, Ripley and Switzerland counties, requires matching funds of $1,573,943. Total: $3,086,164.

These state grants are above the $4 million in federal money set aside by the county to reach extremely remote homes, London said. The $4 million comes from the county’s share of COVID-19 relief funds administered by the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

While the grants have been announced, they doesn’t necessarily mean they will all be accepted. London said the internet provider doesn’t have to accept the money if they are unwilling to come up with matching funds on their own, the commissioner said.

London also warned installation may be slowed because there’s still a problem being faced globally regarding availability of materials like fiber optic cables and switches.

“But I do believe this announcement mean many, many Bartholomew County residents who were not covered in the original ARP funds will now be covered,” he said.

It’s difficult to say whether these grants will speed up the process because “everything is already in forward motion,” London said.

He is referring to the April 4 vote by the commissioners to begin negotiating a contract with Meridiam Infrastructure North America Corp. of New York City.

Expressing a willingness to invest $33 million of their own money into the project, Meridiam will take about two-and-a-half years to complete the installation of fiber-optic lines to 11,845 homes in remote locations of Bartholomew County, the agreement states.

Since Mainstream Fiber Network is part of the Meridiam organization, London has no doubt that Mainstream will put up the matching funds for their two local grants.

But it’s up in the air whether Comcast will be willing to pay $3.58 million in matching funds to receive a $1.19 million grant, he said.

The Next Level Broadband Grant Program is the largest single state investment in broadband. In total, rounds one, two and three of the program have awarded $268 million for broadband infrastructure for more than 74,800 homes and commercial locations.