When we originally announced our fiber internet build at our July 2018 Annual Meeting, the initial reaction was open applause. State-of-the-art broadband service is finally coming to rural areas! But, when I shared our timeline of eight years, that applause quickly became disillusionment.
That shift was no surprise. We knew the need was dire and immediate, even before a pandemic further cemented our dependency on reliable broadband. So, we acquired Wintek in January 2019. That action shortened the timeline to five years. An improvement for certain, but you still challenged us to go faster.
So, we partnered with Purdue University to write an econometric study that showed a stunning return on investment in broadband. Every dollar Tipmont invested in broadband returns $4 in economic benefits. In other words, a 400% return on investment.
That finding played a key role in establishing Indiana’s Next Level Connections infrastructure program. Last month, I shared the good news of our $16 million grant award from that program. We also received an additional $1 million from the USDA’s ReConnect grant program.
Those grant funds are dollars that Tipmont doesn’t have to spend building fiber lines. But more importantly, the additional funding allows us to hire more crews and build faster. In effect, we have nearly halved our original timeline of ensuring broadband is available to every Tipmont member. This is a tremendous accomplishment by Tipmont’s staff.
Today, we’re excited to announce our 2021 build plans. While this is wonderful news for those in the 2021 build areas, I also know that there are just as many who are still waiting.
We submitted grant applications for nearly every census block in our electric service area that met the program’s eligibility requirements. Several of our applications were challenged by other providers claiming that they either already offer broadband service there, or that they had received federal funding to build broadband service there. Most of these challenges were from TDS and Watch Communications. We fought hard on your behalf and were able to disprove several of these challenges, especially the ones claiming that adequate service was already offered.
Another concern we’ve heard is that our build was focusing in higher density areas with options already available. That’s a fair criticism. We needed to ensure our broadband build would be self-sufficient and sustainable for years to come. But thanks to these grant dollars, we’ll be able to focus where the need is the greatest.