Executive Linked to Association Brings Rural Internet Idea to Congress

President Biden proposed $100 billion in his infrastructure plan to make high-speed internet available throughout America, but industry officials, including one with a connection to the Association, said during a congressional hearing recently that the price tag could be $50 billion more than what’s proposed.

Johnny Park, chief executive of the Indiana-based Wabash Heartland Innovation Network, or WHIN, told lawmakers he expects it to cost up to $150 billion to fill the gaps in internet coverage in rural America.

Todd Miller from member company Myers Spring serves on the Board of Directors for WHIN. The group recently completed a successful test flight with a tethered 80-foot-long balloon, known as an aerostat. The balloon provides a link between scattered households and broadband providers in the network’s 10-county region.

Park testified that in WHIN’s pursuit to build a regional ecosystem in Indiana to attract globally competitive businesses, it has adopted as its principal strategy the acceleration of digital technology, especially digital agriculture and smart manufacturing.

Park, Miller, and others with WHIN are fostering development of a living laboratory for IoT, or the Internet of Things, introducing technologies on farms and in manufacturing plants to drive innovation. The effort has led to the adoption of new technologies in both industries.

“But the spotty and inconsistent connectivity in our rural region was hindering our efforts,” Park said, “not to mention limiting all kinds of economic development and quality of life as we all know.”

That led the organization to launch aerostat.

The balloon is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly 1,500 feet from a farm field in White County, Ind. It is tethered with fiber connection, and it has a payload capacity of 200 pounds that allows it to carry multiple wireless communication devices.

Park said he expects the aerostat to have a 50-mile radius of coverage suitable for IoT sensor connectivity and a 10- to 15-mile radius to provide high-speed broadband.

Park offered to share what WHIN has learned to help other rural regions in the U.S. more quickly and efficiently close the digital divide.