Broadband connections • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Broadband connections

Companies committed to making high-speed internet available to all

Scott Franko
Scott Franko, of Surf Internet, assists residents in applying to the Indiana Connectivity Program during a Jan. 18 even hosted by the Starke County Economic Development Foundation. (Provided by Surf Internet)

From work to play to school, the world is connected via the internet. A lack of access to fast and reliable service limits opportunity and growth.

In the Region, technology companies are committed to making broadband available for everyone.

“We live in a digital world,” said Bert Cook, executive director of the La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership. “Schools, businesses, they need this access. It’s crazy how reliant we are on this access. We look around and it’s not like we’re going to get any less reliant on connectivity.”

Lawmakers know this too. A new federal grant program will support new broadband infrastructure across Indiana.

The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program will provide the Indiana Broadband Office with $868 million in federal funding to support broadband infrastructure. Those funds will be allocated to internet service providers such as Surf Internet, Comcast, AT&T, NITCO and others to support new broadband infrastructure in underserved and unserved areas across the state.

Cook noted that La Porte is in a strong position because of the amount of fiber that has been laid throughout the town, particularly across the business district. Recent broadband projects by Surf Internet in the La Porte area have turned it into a “multi-gig city,” Cook said.

Several projects are coming to La Porte that are communications heavy, Cook said. The availability of broadband was key to making those deals. He added that broadband is “absolutely essential in this day and age.”

“This is one of the most significant advancements we’ve seen,” Cook said. “It’s connected governments, businesses and created a competitive landscape.”

Sean McCarthy, Comcast’s regional vice president of business development and strategic initiatives, said high-speed internet will be a great equalizer.

Sean McCarthy
Sean McCarthy
Bert Cook
Bert Cook

The communications giant is partnering with Indiana state and local governments to understand which areas are unserved and underserved.

“We want to better serve these customers,” McCarthy said.

He points to a project Comcast recently completed in Porter County, bringing service to more than 60 unserved homes. The company also has projects in progress that will provide internet speeds faster than a gig to more than 1,500 homes in underserved areas in La Porte and Marshall counties, McCarthy said.

The company also recently announced higher internet speeds for business customers nationwide.

Broadband defined

According to the Federal Communications Commission, the qualification for broadband is a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. With fiber, which is being used across parts of northern Indiana, the speeds are much higher.

Steve Carender
Steve Carender

The BEAD program was created to expand access to high-speed broadband services across the nation. Specifically, it prioritizes unserved locations that have no internet access or limited access under 25/3 Mbps and underserved locations that only have access under 100/20 Mbps, the program states.

Nationally, an estimated 42 million people do not have access to broadband, including many people in Indiana, according to BroadbandNow, a data technology company.

Funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the BEAD program will provide $42 billion to the states to support broadband access in areas that are not yet covered. Internet service providers can secure grant funds by matching up to 50% of the award.

Surf Internet’s Steve Carender calls the BEAD grants “the big kahuna” for bringing broadband to underserved areas across Indiana. It will radically change the level of connection in those areas. The lack of broadband access prevents people from using services such as online banking or telehealth. It also hinders people hunting for a job, he said.

“Many job interviews are conducted through Zoom or the like, and many of these positions are remote,” he said. “If you don’t have reliable service, you’ll be at a severe disadvantage and maybe disqualified.”

Bridging digital divide

Broadband access is becoming increasingly important to communities across America, both urban and rural. To address that lack of access in rural areas, the government developed a number of initiatives.

In 2021, the U.S. government established the Digital Equity Act, which provides $2.75 billion for three grant programs. All three are designed to promote digital equity and inclusion. In 2022, Indiana was awarded $842,000 from the Digital Equity Planning Grant to fund the creation of the state’s first digital equity plan.

Surf Internet
Augie and Paige Gappa, the first customers to be connected to Surf’s high-speed fiber-optic internet network at 1 gig speeds pose as they cut the ribbon during a celebration in Knox. (Provided by Surf Internet)

Indiana ranks 23rd among states in consumer group BroadbandNow’s annual rankings of internet coverage, speed and availability. An estimated 89% of people have access to 100Mbps broadband and about 78.7% of Hoosiers have access to 1G broadband, BroadbandNow reports. Many of the areas in Indiana that do not have reliable access to broadband are rural. An estimated 28% of farms across Indiana do not have broadband access, according to the USDA 2022 Census of Agriculture.

Building broadband infrastructure isn’t cheap. It costs tens of thousands of dollars to run 1 mile of broadband cable. The costs increase depending on whether it is run along an electric pole or placed underground. The infrastructure requires the placement of conduit, cables and electronics, not to mention labor expenses.

“This is the reason for the (BEAD) grants. The government figured it out early that they need to bring broadband to people in the rural areas so they can participate in the digital age,” said Tom Carroll, senior vice president of the Northwestern Indiana Telephone Company. “But, it’s not just government money. Private money is involved in this too. It’s a public-private effort to bring broadband to underserved communities.”

Carroll is excited about the BEAD program and how it can meet the demands for broadband access. Some of the biggest users are schools and municipal services. In East Chicago, NITCO is providing 10 gigs or more to support the needs of the schools there.

“The amount of broadband needed for school corporations is huge,” he said. “Five years ago, it was unheard of for a school to need more than 5 gigs, and today, it’s more than double — they need 10 gigs or more.”

While Carroll believes the BEAD grants are essential, they will not be enough to connect every Hoosier household. At a recent Indiana Broadband Office meeting, Carroll said Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch confirmed his suspicion.

“The grants are a great start but more needs to be done,” he said.

In March, AT&T announced plans to invest an additional $3 billion by 2030 to help close the national digital divide. That’s on top of a $2 billion investment in 2021. AT&T says its mission is to “help every American connect to greater possibilities” by expanding internet access.

NITCO also is making continued investments across the Region. The 84-year-old company is building fiber throughout its territory. NITCO placed its first fiber in the ground in 1985 to support long-distance calls. That fiber is still there, and it’s still working to bring broadband services, Carroll said.

Photo provided by Comcast
Comcast recently brought broadband with speeds faster than a gig to more than 60 unserved homes in Porter County, and work is underway to bring its service to more than 1,500 homes in underserved areas in La Porte and Marshall counties. The company also recently announced higher internet speeds for business customers nationwide. (Photo provided by Comcast)

NITCO provides services to five Indiana counties, Lake, Porter, Jasper, Newton and Starke. Carroll says those counties have “a lot of underserved addresses,” and that’s where the grants will provide more opportunities to establish services in these areas. In 2023, NITCO brought internet to 300 to 400 homes in Hebron alone, Carroll said.

Surf Internet also has been busy bringing high-speed services to communities across the Region. The company has added services to places like Valparaiso, Portage, La Porte and Knox. In March, Surf initiated construction on broadband infrastructure that will connect approximately 1,500 homes in rural northern Indiana. The project will include areas in Elkhart, La Porte and Newton counties.

Carender likens the speed of the multi-gig service provided by Surf to that of a Ferrari. He said people not used to high-speed service will be pleased with what they’re getting.

In addition to providing broadband services, Surf Internet hosts a number of events across the Region to educate people about the Indiana Connectivity Program. Its goal is to connect residents and businesses that lack access to broadband internet service with service providers and assist in the expense of extending broadband to those locations.

Carender says these events are well-attended, which demonstrates the desire and need for broadband services. The state program provides a subsidy of up to $4,800 to help bring broadband to homes where the service is not available.

“It shows the critical importance for broadband and what people want,” Carender said. “You can live a short distance from your neighbor, and they can have broadband service, but you don’t. That needs to be addressed so people can participate on even ground.”

Indianapolis-based Managed Health Services is addressing the issue also by creating the Broadband Access Strategic Partnership, the first program of a $2 million initiative. It will focus on bringing broadband to marginalized communities, especially in Northwest Indiana.

Benefits of municipal services

Town leaders in Chesterton embraced the importance of broadband for economic development. They believed it was important for Chesterton to have an ownership stake in the infrastructure. The town launched the Chesterton Fiber Optic Network to accommodate current and future telecommunication needs in the town. CFON, which is managed by NITCO, is made up of a 15.5 -mile high-speed fiber-optic broadband network.

Town leaders believed owning the fiber optic system would be an ideal economic development investment to attract and support businesses in the community. More than 300 businesses in Chesterton are within reach of the gigabit capable fiber network there. Chesterton Town Manager David Cincoski says the establishment of CFON is vital to continued economic development in the community.

Andy Snyder
Andy Snyder
David Cincoski
David Cincoski

“The redevelopment commission decided years ago that the establishment of a broadband fiber network throughout the town … could be used as a driver for enhanced services for the businesses and economic development. It provides a service that we believe is above and beyond what is accessible otherwise,” Cincoski said. “It’s fantastic for town services and community emergency services. It fits our needs. We have all the access we need, and then some.”

CFON supplies broadband to most of the school buildings in town, as well as all municipal buildings. Businesses downtown can access CFON as well, Cincoski said. However, at this time, the system has not been opened to Chesterton residents.

In nearby La Porte, a fiber optic system keeps municipal services connected. Andy Snyder, chief of the La Porte Fire Department, praises the reliable broadband service there. He said the service creates a seamless connection between the department’s stations and trucks.

“We no longer have to relay information through channels. Now we can provide on-the-spot decision making, which saves time and resources,” Snyder said. “Things don’t get lost in translation if the on-scene director is talking directly to who they need to.”

Tablets in department vehicles are connected to the town’s service, which provides the crews access to the same information they have in the station, Snyder said. The tablets can access information about pipelines in the area, hydrant locations and more.

Reliable broadband service allows the engine companies to conduct training in their substations without having to go to a centralized location. Snyder says this keeps firefighters on site in case an emergency occurs.

“It’s good for the community,” he said. “It keeps us connected with each other but allows us to remain ready to respond to emergencies.”

Read more stories from the current issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.


  • Alex Keown

    Alex Keown is a Chicago-based professional reporter and editor with more than 20 years of experience writing for newspapers, online business news sites, journals and magazines. His work has been featured in multiple publications, including The Chicago Tribune, BioSpace, BioBuzz,, The Naperville Sun, My Suburban Life, The Wilson (Daily) Times, Fur World Magazine, Clef Notes Journal and more.

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