Below is the text of a letter send from U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb:
Dear Governor Holcomb,
As our state and country continue to show resilience and adapt during these unprecedented times, lack of access to affordable high-speed broadband is one of the greatest obstacles preventing our economy and livelihoods from recovering. While I applaud your administration for committing $100 million in state matching grants to build and expand broadband infrastructure in unserved or underserved communities, it is estimated that 666,000 rural or low-income Hoosiers still do not have access to high-speed broadband. To encourage a strong economic recovery, get Hoosiers back to work, and deliver quality health and education services during the pandemic, bridging Indiana’s digital divide must be given the urgency it deserves.
Through the CARES Act, Congress established the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) to provide payments to State, Local, and Tribal governments for covering “necessary expenditures” incurred due to the public health emergency. Today, many state governments — including Indiana — have set aside or committed CRF funds to cover payroll for public health and safety employees, public health expenses, economic support, and medical costs. Although these dollars must be spent before December 31, 2020, the state of Indiana has only committed or expended $1.7 billion of the $2.4 billion it received from the CRF. The pandemic has forced Hoosiers to rely heavily on distance learning, telework and telehealth. Broadband expansion projects would not only create countless jobs and get Hoosiers back to work, but they would be instrumental in bridging Indiana’s digital divide.
At least a dozen states have utilized their CRF funds to deploy various broadband expansion projects to increase internet access to unserved or underserved communities. The states of Idaho and Iowa have each allocated $50 million in CRF funds to purchase broadband infrastructure, services, and equipment from internet service providers. Additionally, Mississippi allocated $75 million in CRF funds to provide high-speed internet to homes that do not have access to broadband, and Missouri allocated $20 million in CRF funds to create a reimbursement program for broadband providers to help cover the construction costs of providing students and vulnerable populations with internet access at home.
Hoosiers are seeking employment at a record rate, while some schools and health care providers have moved to online platforms. The infrastructure required to implement broadband expansion would not only create jobs, but allow Hoosiers to retain their jobs, receive health care services, and continue to learn from home. It is my sincere hope that the state of Indiana will consider using its remaining CRF funds for broadband investments in order to give Hoosiers the resources they need to weather the pandemic.
Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to your prompt reply.
Rep. Jim Banks