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New broadband providers coming to Wabash County

August 31st, 2018

By Andrew Christman | Wabash Plain Dealer

Wabash County will be receiving more than $100,000 in support for two companies to extend internet services here, the Federal Communications Commission announced this week.

The FCC received bids for the rural broadband support project between July 24 and Aug. 21. Wabash will receive a total of $111,162 in upgrade support for its rural networks, offering a minimum of 25 megabits per second speeds over the next 10 years. 

Providers Mercury Wireless of Fort Wayne and Benton Ridge Telephone Company of Lima, Ohio are the two FCC award recipients that will be serving the Wabash area. The upgrades are anticipated to impact 91 businesses and homes here.

Indiana as a whole will receive around $29 million in FCC support.

Mark Wigfield, FCC deputy director of media relations, said he anticipates work should begin in the Wabash area within the next few months.

“They have to build out about 40 percent of the locations within three years, and then they have to completely build out within six years,” Wigfield said. “Whenever they build out, they have to, on a rolling basis, provide us with information so we are monitoring that. We don’t specify where they have to build out; they just have to hit these targets.”

Keith Gillenwater, president and CEO of the Wabash Business Alliance, also known as Grow Wabash County, said having access to high speed internet is growing increasingly important for residents and businesses. He said the assistance from the FCC is something he would applaud. 

Wabash County’s access to high speed internet is largely focused around the city of Wabash of towns of North Manchester and LaFontaine, all of which are part of the MetroNet fiber optic network. Gillenwater said the fiber optic lines cover all public right of ways and a route which connects to entities like Southwood High School, Wabash City Schools and the Wabash Municipal Airport. Other providers, like Comcast and Frontier, also offer services throughout the county.

With two additional internet providers coming to the area, Gillenwater said residents will have more options to choose a quality product at a good price.

Wigfield said the new bid process was meant to lower the costs to help make the new services more affordable for customers.

The program, called the Connect America Fund Auction, follows a similar program established in 2015 encouraging larger internet providers, like Verizon and AT&T, to expand broadband services. Once the process was completed, smaller providers were encouraged to help with coverage too.

“Basically, it took those areas that didn’t get covered in 2015 and opened them up to all qualified bidders,” Wigfield said.

The bidding process allowed the FCC to reduce the overall cost of the project nationwide from $5 billion to around $1.5 billion. This is the first time an auction of this kind has been done in this manner for providing internet service from the FCC, Wigfield said.

Indiana areas will receive service based on how lacking in internet services are and where costs are highest, which are tracked through a computer module.

Once the project is completed, the FCC plans to see where services can still be improved and move on from there.