May 7—A collaborative effort involving the Vigo County School Corp., local and state government as well as private business will mean improved internet access for students countywide as well as the community overall.

Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch was among the local and state dignitaries attending Thursday’s broadband infrastructure groundbreaking at Hulman Links golf course. The event celebrated the first installment of 84 additional WiFi, off-campus locations for VCSC students to access the internet.

The county and city each approved funds for the additional 84 sites. Joink LLC, a Terre Haute-based technology firm, is a partner in the collaborative effort.

Many students in Vigo County lack internet access, said Rob Haworth, VCSC superintendent.

“We’ve gathered here today to celebrate a significant milestone, one that begins to meet that challenge of access. Today, we are breaking ground for 84 WiFi hotspots that will be installed throughout our community,” Haworth said. “This will provide equity to students who need internet access as we continue to use technology in our curriculum.”

But Thursday’s gathering also served as a celebration of the community’s collaboration and vision.

“This project is an example of what can happen when government, schools and private organizations come together to co-design efforts to elevate our entire community,” Haworth said.

Last summer, VCSC was awarded nearly $1.4 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund. Funding from the county and city have made the additional 84 hotspots possible.

“We all came to the table with resources to do what was best for our community,” Haworth said.

The city of Terre Haute is providing $543,580 to add 40 locations in the city; it is using American Rescue Plan funds. In December, the Vigo County Council approved more than $2.8 million to provide 44 locations in the county; the county is funding its share using the Economic Development Income Tax.

The project will provide access to thousands of VCSC students and the community’s most underserved regions.

“You all are rocking it here,” Crouch said. The community is setting an example for the entire state, she said.

Every child deserves an opportunity to succeed in life, and it takes an education to make that happen, she said. “Every child needs to have the same opportunity and the same access to get that education, and that’s what you are doing today,” she said.

But what also is impressive, Crouch said, “is all the people that have come together, all the organizations that have come together to collaborate to make this a reality.”

Broadband is the enabling infrastructure for an innovation economy. Indiana has already awarded $79 million in expanding broadband throughout Indiana, which will connect 22,000 Hoosier families and businesses, she said.

The Indiana General Assembly has voted to put an additional $250 million into expanding broadband throughout Indiana, the lieutenant governor said. “What you have done is amazing, but what we’re going to do is going to be even more amazing.”

Mayor Duke Bennett said the investment will help give students the access they need, “but there are so many other benefits we’re all going to get from this” in terms of access to the entire community.

It will be a tool to help attract others to Terre Haute and Vigo County. “The commitment we’ve made is going to pay dividends down the road,” Bennett said. “This is how you get things done.”

The mayor pointed out that Joink has made a lot of investment prior to this point making the broadband initiative possible. “The partnership of the private sector is so important,” the mayor said.

Joink will extend fiber optic cable and install electronics into city and county parks, fire houses, community centers and other locations. An exterior Wi-Fi access point at each location will provide outdoor access to student devices in the vicinity of the facility.

Josh Zuerner, Joink CEO and president, said the company “is so grateful and honored to have an opportunity to participate in what is unprecedented broadband collaboration in our community.”

Joink customers have also helped make the broadband expansion possible, he said. “If not for them, we wouldn’t have the 460 miles of fiber in the ground that allows us to now add these 84 locations.”

The WiFi hotspots will allow students to upload, download and participate in a learning activity the same way they could in a VCSC classroom. “To think a student could walk a few blocks across the road and come to a beautiful place like this, sit outside, get online and get their work done, is just awesome to me,” Zuerner said.

Students and families will have to get close to the hotspots, Zuerner later explained. But whereas now, families may have to drive long distances such as to a restaurant to get online, with the added hotspots they will be able to do so much closer to home.

Some of the 84 sites will be online in the third quarter of this year, and all of them are expected to be complete by the second quarter of 2022.

The project extends the school district’s WiFi network beyond the 30 school district properties.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at [email protected] Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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