PERU — Miami County commissioners have pledged $1.4 million to help fund a major expansion of high-speed internet to rural parts of the county, including to underserved students in low-income areas.
The money will go to Miami-Cass REMC, which last year purchased the local internet provider Broadway Broadband and now plans to install 800 miles of fiber internet over the next six years.
Commissioner Fred Musselman said the funding comes from the $6.8 million the county is set to receive from the American Rescue Plan.
Rob Schwartz, CEO of Miami-Cass REMC, said the $1.4 million pledged by the county will help expedite a project already underway to install 65 miles of new fiber internet throughout rural parts of the county that currently only have wireless internet, or no internet at all.
Part of the project will also provide free or at-cost internet service to around 150 students in low-income households in the Maconaquah School Corporation and North Miami Community Schools districts.
“It’s about committing to the community,” Schwartz said. “That’s why we’re doing this for the students.”
He said the money is especially crucial for the project since the supply of fiber cable has become bottlenecked due to the labor shortage and the high demand for cable that came after Congress approved the American Rescue Plan.
Schwartz said there’s currently a 42-week backorder, and the money from the county will allow them to use their current supply of fiber cable and put a down payment on purchasing more so they don’t eventually run out.
“It’s the perfect storm, so we’re trying to get ahead,” he said. “This speeds up the project, and right now, time is crucial.”
Musselman said commissioners decided to fund the current project to boost economic development in rural Miami County, where there are large areas with spotty internet service.
“We thought it would be a good use of the money that benefits the majority of the citizens of Miami County,” he said. “There’s a lot of dead space in Miami County where people can’t good internet access. Everything is going online, so this is helping us get with the times.”
Schwartz said his company will eventually have fiber cable running by 9,000 homes in Miami and Cass counties providing up to a gigabyte of speed to those homes.
He said they’re aiming to complete the initial 65-mile expansion in Miami County in around 18 months, including providing access to underserved students.
“The student part of this project is just a small portion of it,” Schwartz said. “The rest is all about bringing economic development to the rural areas by having access to high-speed internet.”
Musselman said the internet expansion is the first project the county has committed to spending its upcoming allocation of America Rescue Plan funding. He said commissioners are currently in discussions about other projects on which they might spend the money.