A new initiative at Purdue University between various offices – including one focused on rural affairs –  aims to create a coalition of students, alumni, and employees to raise awareness about broadband access and adoption across Indiana, although its specific impact on rural residents remains unclear. 

The Purdue Broadband Team (PBT) is made up of current students, alumni, 4-H members, and university extension personnel, said Roberto Gallardo, vice president for engagement at Purdue and director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development.

The team will be spreading awareness about the Federal Communications Commission map, speed tests as well as the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal subsidy program, and the Indiana Connectivity Program, a state program. 

“We’re hoping they can get as many speed tests as possible. We are also hoping they validate the FCC map, both on the location side and the service side,” Gallardo said. “But more importantly, we want them to be aware that these resources are here, [and] how exactly they’re going to be affected.”

He said the rural data is likely to be updated because of the work done by the Extension staff and 4-H members. “Another potential benefit is that other states replicate this model having a larger impact on rural,” he added.

Purdue University President Mung Chiang announced the effort earlier in October. The Purdue Broadband Team is a collaborative effort between Purdue, the Indiana Broadband Office, and the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. 

Denny Spinner, executive director of the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, said he hopes that, with the help of the Purdue Broadband Team, they’re able to get the message out across to every corner of the state and encourage residents to take advantage of the available resources to get reliable broadband access. 

‘Rural Indiana is our next great economic frontier,’ and broadband services are a major driver of economic growth in these areas.” he said. Spinner added that as they try to make rural Indiana an even better place to live, work, and raise a family, access to broadband, and the quality-of-life impact it has, is at the forefront of our mission at OCRA. 

“When we look at the addresses submitted to and awarded via the Indiana Connectivity Program, a large number are in one of Indiana’s 76 rural counties,” he told the Daily Yonder. “We know the demand is there, and we’re doing our best to meet those needs.”

“The lack of affordable high-speed broadband affects economic development and quality of life in various communities in our state,” Chiang said in a press statement. 

The announcement about the broadband team was made as Chiang continues to visit all of Indiana’s 92 counties. During the tour, Chiang has heard from residents, community leaders, and business owners about the impact insufficient broadband can have on a community. Through his visits, Chiang hopes to send a message that Purdue is working to address challenges, including bridging the digital divide.

“It is part of our mission as a land-grant university to use resources, knowledge, and scope of reach to aid in this critical endeavor,” Chiang said. “Broadband means better health care, better schools, stronger infrastructure, and more jobs for people to choose from. This is about translating why it matters and helping make that linkage for people in communities.”

Gallardo said they are hoping to move the needle on awareness. 

“People just don’t know what they don’t know. Or they may have heard about this, but because it did not come from somebody they trust, like Purdue, they may have not paid attention to it,” Gallardo told the Daily Yonder. 

“At the end of the day, the first mission of the PBT is to get the FCC map as accurate as possible, get as many speed tests completed as possible, and get folks to know about [Affordable Connectivity Program]. And also if they want to sign up for ICP, the Indiana Connectivity Program. It’s really good old spread-of-word-of-mouth, really, that we’re doing.”

Gallardo said the team members were given a social media toolkit to use as possible posts on social media. But the goal is also to raise awareness through old-fashioned word of mouth with family and friends. 

Extension personnel, meanwhile, will host presentations to help raise awareness. “It’s word of mouth in this digital world, which is still very powerful,” Gallardo said. 

He said that Purdue is not a service provider or infrastructure builder and not guaranteeing service. The team is not conducting the speed tests for individuals or businesses, either. The broadband team also will not be able to control the outcome of the FCC map. 

“But I can guarantee you this: if you do not do any of this, you will more than likely end up on the wrong side of the divide. That’s for sure,” he added.

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