Company announces internet expansion

An existing internet provider intends to increase its involvement in bringing broadband service to areas of Bartholomew and Johnson counties.

AT&T intends to use funds received from Indiana’s Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program, as well as their own money, to finance the $1 million dollar expansion project.

The company says they expect to finalize a contract with the state of Indiana, which will allow them to bring AT&T Fiber to nearly 590 homes, businesses and farms in portions of Columbus and Edinburgh.

This isn’t the first time AT&T announced funds obtained through this matching grant program. In April, the corporation announced they had received $1,148,639 to reach 154 homes and six businesses in Bartholomew, Johnson and Owen counties.

Bartholomew County commisssioner Tony London, who chairs the county’s Broadband Initiative Committee, says he has repeatedly asked AT&T for a map of the new areas they intend to serve. However, London said he has not received a response.

“But that said, we welcome any company who wants to help spread broadband internet in our county,” London said.

AT&T Fiber will offer symmetrical speeds of up to 5-Gigs on downloads and uploads. The faster speeds and increased bandwidth mean customers can use multiple devices at the same time, company officials said.

Once the state grant paperwork has been finalized, AT&T plans to immediately begin extensive design and engineering work.

From 2019-2021, AT&T invested more than $1 billion in its wireless and wire-line networks in Indiana to expand coverage and improve connectivity in more communities, company officials said.

The importance of making high-speed internet available to all homes and businesses become evident after COVID-19 emerged in 2020, according to several government and business leaders. Many suddenly discovered it was necessary for home-based work, teleconferencing, online medical care, mental health counseling, eLearning and streaming entertainment.

Columbus and Bartholomew County government have announced their intentions to work with Meridiam Infrastructure North America Corp. to finance infrastructure for county-wide broadband.

Hoosier Networks LLC, which is part of the Meridiam organization, received a 20-year tax abatement on new equipment from the Columbus City Council Tuesday that some say could save them as much as $4.6 million. While the company promises to make high-speed internet accessible to 85% of Columbus, neither company will actually serve as the internet provider.

London says the county will also seek some type of tax arrangement between the company and the Bartholomew County Council before infrastructure work begins.

Earlier this year, several broadband companies received matching grants through the Next Level program. Comcast was provided $1,193,483 to reach 53 homes and 138 businesses in Bartholomew County, while Miles Communications got a matching grant of $955,312 to reach 140 households and 14 businesses.

Mainstream Fiber Network, which is also affiliated with Meridiam, has received two matching grants to serve Bartholomew County. The first is for $1,959,090 to reach 79 households and six businesses, while the second grant of $1,527,778 is intended to reach 142 residences and 12 businesses.

London says while grants have been announced, there’s no guarantee the recipient will accept the money.

An internet provider can turn down the grant if they are unwilling or unable to come up with matching funds on their own, London said. In many cases, the required matching funds are equal to or more than the grant itself.

Meanwhile, four broadband providers were chosen last year through a federal bidding process to serve different areas of Bartholomew County. Each received funding through the Rural Development Opportunity Fund, London said.

Jackson County REMC was picked to serve the broadband needs of a smaller portion of Sandcreek Township. Mercury Wireless was approved to provide similar service to northwest sections of the county. Two firms – LTD Broadband of Minnesota and Dell TD – said they intended to move ahead with plans to serve northeast areas.

A fifth chosen provider – Charter Communications, Inc. – backed out of a deal last year to install high-speed internet to about 1,600 homes in southwestern Bartholomew County, London said.