INDIANAPOLIS Vigo County lawmakers are in full support of a new state law prioritizing broadband access for students, schools and rural clinics.

State Rep. Bob Heaton (R-Terre Haute) said rural communities throughout the state struggle to get quality access to broadband and high speed internet.

Currently, Indiana’s infrastructure plan includes the Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program, which is available to supply reliable and affordable broadband service to areas of the state without good internet connection through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. Under the legislation signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb, OCRA must make it a priority to deploy these grants to unserved areas most in need first.

“Using money from the grant program provides unserved and underserved Hoosiers the chance to obtain a reliable internet connection,” Heaton said. “Not having broadband access can be a roadblock for clinics to provide quality care for their community, or for others needing to work or study from home.”

The new law creates a reverse auction for students who can self-report a lack of educational broadband service through a portal on the OCRA website. State Rep. Alan Morrison (R-Brazil) said the broadband company that can provide service to the student’s household for the lowest amount of money will be awarded the Next Level Connections grant.

“Certain parts of the state still struggle with access to internet service,” Morrison said. “This legislation is a great way to give our rural communities a helping hand by making broadband more available to them.”

According to State Rep. Bruce Borders (R-Jasonville), a new voucher program will also be created through the law to help schools and clinics cover the cost of obtaining better internet speeds and higher quality connection.

“Especially in the last year, we’ve seen how large the gaps in broadband access really are,” Borders said. “Getting our students, schools and hospital clinics priority access is the first step in closing this digital divide.”