Working from home or attending school virtually has been a good solution for many during the COVID-19 crisis, except for those who live in rural communities and don’t have good connectivity.
What is more concerning is that as the virus hangs on, some businesses are finding the best solution is to give up their office space and let employees permanently work from home. And students without a good reliable internet connection run the risk of falling behind in school.
Jim Turner, CEO of Intelligent Fiber Network (IFN), based in Indianapolis, says investing in fiber broadband infrastructure is vital, both for businesses and schools.
“I think remote work is here to stay,” he said.
IFN has more than 4,500 route miles of fiber, connecting more than 4,000 buildings in Indiana. Rural broadband is a focus of IFN. It is actually owned by 20 rural telephone companies and one rural electric cooperative. Three of its member/owners received grants in the latest round of the Next Level Connection program announced Sept. 3 by Gov. Eric Holcomb.
They went to New Lisbon Broadband and Communications to serve six unserved residences in Henry County; to Endeavor Communications to serve 138 unserved locations near the town of Danville in Hendricks County; and to Perry-Spencer Rural Telephone Cooperative, Inc. to serve 679 unserved locations in Dubois County.
In the Business Weekly reading area, two organizations unaffiliated with IFN received grants: Mercury Wireless, which will connect 130 households and five businesses in part of Allen, DeKalb and Whitley counties; and Lakeland Internet in Steuben County, which will serve 40 households in Pine Canyon Lake.
IFN did a project for Whitley County in 2018, providing fiber optic services along the U.S. 30 corridor, primarily to serve businesses along that route, such as the “shovel ready” Park 30 Business Center.
Having high-bandwidth fiber optic cable ready for a business to hook into is another incentive for those looking for a new location.
Turner said IFN designs the systems, and then hires contractors to do the installation.
In addition to providing service to their owners, IFN also designs systems for hospitals, schools, businesses and government buildings. They also provide service to towers.
It was business as usual for IFN until the pandemic struck. “When all this happened on March 13 I joked for the next two weeks we’ll be working remotely,” Turner said.
He knew broadband would be important in this type of crisis, and indeed, the situation increased demand for their services. “Our guys have been busy.”
Over the past six months, Turner said, “it’s been interesting to watch culturally how we’re dealing with this.”
As far as working from home, he sees training new employees remotely as the biggest challenge.
And he pointed out there is “no substitute for occasional face-to-face interaction.”
Looking to the future, Turner said when we start driving automated vehicles, they’re not going to work without connectivity. So the demand for fiber networks will continue to grow. “We think there’s no substitute for fiber,” he said.
“The one issue people can agree on in this day and age,” he said, “it’s the need for high-speed connectivity.”