Bartholomew Council approves tax break for rural internet efforts

The Bartholomew County Council has approved a tax abatement requested by a company that plans to bring high-speed internet to rural parts of the community.

But that comes after a sometimes angry debate and the threat of a lawsuit from a coalition of internet providers.

Meridiam Infrastructure through Hoosier Networks are proposing a project to bring fiber optic internet with gig speed to rural parts of the county. Their agreement with the Bartholomew County Commissioners calls for bringing the high speed internet into almost 12,000 homes.

But the company said it needed a tax abatement on the investment and without the tax break, the project is not affordable.

A coalition of Internet providers, called the Indiana Cable and Broadband Association, threatened that the county was opening itself up to legal claims, if Meridiam moves forward with the county agreement, saying that the county would be excluding other internet providers from providing service, among other concerns. But Meridiam representatives and the commissioners disputed those claims.

Several residents said that they were in favor of the efforts to bring high-speed internet to their rural homes, citing problems even selling a property that has no internet access, in addition to problems with school, work and health care in this connected era.

The County Council listened to nearly three hours of public comment and debate before ultimately deciding to approve the tax abatement and to declare the entire county an economic revitalization area.