NEWS

A Success Story:

Commissioner Sheila Matias Leads LaPorte County Broadband Expansion

When LaPorte County Commissioner Sheila Matias was elected in 2018, she identified broadband access as a critical issue. She knew that our LaPorte County farmers, for example, were using state-of-the-art high-speed technology in their agriculture businesses in order to increase efficiency and profit per acre. Little did Sheila know at the time that a few years later, every household and business would be affected by the need for significant broadband bandwidth as the pandemic raged through Indiana and work- from - home and eLearning became our new normal.

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After redesigning the county’s web site as an information and service platform, which was the first investment in the county’s online presence in 25 years, Sheila then convened the LaPorte County Broadband Task Force which has taken responsibility for developing a strategy to ensure equity in broadband access to every home and business in LaPorte County. While "a very heavy lift" as she calls it, Matias has illustrated that even the most complex issues can be broken into manageable parts with a collaborative approach and teamwork.

Sheila stated, “Our goal is hefty and will take time to implement. But we aren’t backing down because it’s complex and difficult. We’re focused on developing effective strategies to address the ‘digital divide’. It’s clear that we aren’t unique in having the systemic problem of unserved rural residents who, through no fault of their own, are victims of a broadband network built to favor the business model of ISP’s (internet service providers) who profit by building infrastructure in the densely populated geographies."

 

The members of the Task Force, all volunteers selected for their expertise and serving as a think tank, are listed below.

The broadband task force has held meetings, and seminars with experts in the field who have experience in regional broadband strategies. Dr. Roberto Gaillardo from Purdue University was one of our guiding experts because of his work on this issue across the Midwest.

 

 

The group assisted in the writing of three state grants and while the first two were unsuccessful and showed that this effort is challenging, the task force is currently waiting to hear if they had been selected as a finalist in the third round of state/ federal funding which could serve to bring a Fiber to the Premise solution to all currently unserved residents of LaPorte County.

 

In addition to the active grant writing in cooperation with the three private firms, ACME Communications, Inc., Surf Broadband and Comcast, the Task Force has also convened more than a dozen of interactive workshops with firms that are involved in having designed a proactive solution for these geographically challenged rural areas. Each workshop was helpful in educating our task force but also served to encourage further investment by current providers. Strategies other communities have used to resolve this massive challenge were shared.

 

Using online survey tools, the task force has been gathering critical data to identify under-served areas within LaPorte County. Online surveys were created and shared with county businesses and residents who gave data on their property, as well as upload and download speeds which we have mapped on a county GIS broadband map. The County now has accurate data that shows the gaps in broadband service. As a result of this complex work, this GIS mapping is serving as supporting information for our grant applications for the Fiber to the Premise solutions we need. A grant from the Healthcare Foundation of LaPorte has funded a Fiber to the Premise engineering plan, construction cost estimate and feasibility report that provides our task force detailed specifics on a public-private solution if funding is available. While it is abundantly clear that potential solutions have pros and cons, our goal is to ensure that LaPorte County be seen as a leader in building a fiber-connected community in order to remain a competitor for future investment and job creation.

Because of this in-depth planning, LaPorte County is a strong position to secure funding from the newly passed Federal Infrastructure Bill. 

 

Thanks, Commissioner Matias for your leadership. And thanks to the members of the Task Force.

LaPorte County Broadband Task Force Members:

 

Al Walus, Senior Project Manager, Christopher B. Burke Engineering, LLC

Andrew Matanic, Dir. Of Information, Michigan City

Darlene Hale, IT Director, LPC

Don Parker, Director, Wanatah Library

Mary S. Foell, Community Development Extension Educator,

 LaPorte County, Purdue Northwest

Fonda Owens, Director, LPC Public Library

Jim Pressell, Representative, District 20

Justin Kiel, Publisher & Owner, The Regional News & LaCrosse Town Council

Kevin McGuire, Dir. Of Technology, MCAS

Joe Haney, LPC Commission

Mark Scarborough, Farm Bureau, Farm owner and operator

Mary Jane Thomas, Founder, Thomas & Associates

Mike Bohacek, Senator, District 8

Mike Ordziejewski, GIS Director, LPC

Mitch Bishop, Planner, LPC

Nelson Pichardo, Attorney, Friedman & Associates

Randy Novak, President, LPC Council

Richard Pate, CEO, Pate & Associates

Roscoe Hoffman, Network Administrator​, LPC

Mike Schultz, Assessor, LPC

Scott Sears, CEO, KVREMC

Sheila Matias, LPC Commission, Founder of the Task Force

Pat Boy, Representative, District 9

Tim Loosemore, IT Director, Franciscan Medical

Tom Fath, Vice-President, Westville Town Council

Tom MacLennan, Director of Public Transportation, TransPorte

Mike Polan, Building Commissioner, LPC

Tony Rodriguez, LPC OCED Director

Viviana Plaza, Community Development Specialist, LPC

David Heinold, Interim La Porte City Planner

Beth West, Manager, TransPorte​

The Progressive Democrats of LaPorte County sponsored a Zoom Candidate Forum on Wednesday, October 20th at 6 PM featuring the candidates who are running to replace IN State Senator Karen Tallian.  Sen. Tallian’s resignation is effective November 1st. 

Rodney Pol, Jr. was selected by a Caucus of elected SD4 Democratic Precinct Chairs on Thursday, October 21st to be Sen. Tallian’s successor. Congratulations Rodney Pol, Jr.

Candidate forum video link