By CANDY NEAL

cneal@dcherald.com

People attending a meeting Monday about internet services in the county expressed concerns that not all residents have access and the ability to utilize the internet from their homes.

“One of the stats said that 20% of Dubois County did not have high speed internet,” said Becky Hickman, executive director of the Dubois County Chamber of Commerce. “What kind of initiatives or grants do we have currently that will help reduce that down to 0%?”

Compiling information about that and other challenges is the first step to applying for state and federal grants to fix the problems, explained Ed Cole, president of Dubois Strong, the county’s economic development agency.

About 25 people attended Monday’s meeting at Vincennes University Jasper, with more tuning in online through Zoom. Tony Buechler went through some of the findings in a report called the State of Digital Inclusion. He focused on survey results from the more than 700 residents all over the county who took the survey online. Buechler is on a local team that through Dubois Strong, that is working with Regional Opportunity Initiatives and Purdue Center for Regional Development to develop a plan for eradicating the barriers that keep residents from having adequate and accessible internet service.

The entire State of Digital Inclusion report, including results specific to Dubois County, can be found online at https://duboisstrong.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Dubois-Digital-Inclusion.pdf.

People in the audience talked about challenges residents may have in affording the service as well as the devices needed to access the internet.

“My concern is the kids,” Hickman said. “They need some sort of electronic device at home with them.” Cole said that is a challenge, especially for those who use school devices but have to turn them back in to the school.

“That’s a problem,” Cole said. “We all know that the internet is a huge plus for learning when you in and out of school.” Cole said he hopes to be able to get some funds to provide devices to those who cannot afford them.

Chad Blessinger said that in talking to service providers who have gotten grant funding from the state to serve underserved areas, he found out that it could be as short as two years and as long as six years before some areas get service.

Cheyanne Geideman, engagement specialist with the Purdue Center for Regional Development, said that loan programs could possibly be developed through places like local libraries to help with the challenges in the meantime.

“We’ve seen the device loan program set up,” she said, “so maybe they don’t own a device, but they can borrow one from the library.” There are programs through which hotspots, through which a device can connect to the internet, are loaned out, Geideman said.

Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide said that an overall plan is needed to make sure all areas receive some kind of service, instead of just a few areas having multiple options and other areas having none.

“That’s part of the problem. We don’t have a collaborative plan to bring service effectively and efficiently to all citizens,” he said. “To me that’s the biggest challenges we have. I understand competitiveness. Still, there ought to be a way to approach this thing, to be able to efficiently and effectively bring services to all citizens.”

The Regional Opportunity Initiatives and Purdue Center for Regional Development have been working together to develop a comprehensive regional digital inclusion plan that includes the counties in the Uplands region: Dubois, Brown, Crawford, Daviess, Greene, Lawrence, Martin, Monroe, Orange, Owen and Washington counties.

Each county has a local team that has also been taking part in the work.

The survey was made available online to county residents last fall through Dubois Strong.

Information on the surveys was compiled by the Purdue Center for Regional Development into the State of Digital Inclusion.

Buechler and the local digital team are working on a plan to address the digital challenges discussed in the study. That information will be forwarded to Purdue Center for Regional Development.

The center will work with an advisory team, which will have regional members and members from each county, to compile a report showing what is needed in the region and each county.

The report will be used for future plans to eradicate the problems, such as obtaining state and federal funding and implementing programs and services locally.

For information or to give comments and suggestions, contact the team through Dubois Strong at success@duboisstrong.com or 812-482-9650.