By Megan Erbacher
The Message assistant editor
St. Wendel Catholic School has one-to-one electronic devices for students in grades 4-8, but Principal Hallie Scheu said the lack of high-speed internet access in their community makes it difficult for teachers to fully utilize their potential.
“We have devices; but on any given day, our students may not be able to use these devices because the internet cannot handle the requests that are being made,” Scheu said. “We have some of the most innovative teachers who work to provide the most memorable learning experiences to their students, but are limited because we can only have a few devices streaming at one time.”
During a Nov. 13 press conference at St. Wendel, representatives from Economic Development teams of Posey, Gibson and Vanderburgh counties gathered to bring awareness to the lack of broadband internet access to rural communities. Also present were Vanderburgh County Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave, Posey County Commissioner Carl Schmitz and Gibson County Commissioner Steve Bottoms.
In the 21st century, broadband internet should be considered key infrastructure, according to Musgrave, and citizens shouldn’t have to make compromises.
The need for improved broadband infrastructure is vital for rural schools, Scheu said, because without it students are at a disadvantage. She said it’s nearly impossible to offer e-learning days in lieu of snow days, and the biggest challenge comes with state assessments.
“We have enough internet (access) to take the test but only as long as two grades are testing at one time,” Scheu said. “Having computer connectivity errors have been a major stressor for our students while trying to perform on these state assessments.”
Without high-speed internet, officials said rural businesses suffer because they lack the opportunity to reach global audiences through e-commerce, and farmers need it to improve efficiencies through agricultural innovation.
Audrie Burkett said limited high-speed internet access holds back the local economy and ability to attract new business and talent. Burkett serves as Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana.
“One of the strategies we are employing is surveying residents in the poorly served areas to better document the issue,” she said. “This will assist us in seeking grant funds when they become available.”
In August, Governor Eric Holcomb announced $22.1 million in funding for rural broadband infrastructure projects across 12 Indiana counties, which was the first distribution from the state’s $100 million “Next Level Broadband” expansion program. Southwest Indiana will vie for dollars in the second-round of grant opportunities, Burkett said.
To offer feedback, submit a survey online at southwestindiana.org/broadband. If you don’t have internet access, call your local County Economic Development office to complete it over-the-phone: Posey County at 812-838-6500, Gibson County at 812-386-0002 and Vanderburgh County at 812-492-4390.