JASPER COUNTY – Students in 500 households in a mostly rural area of northern Jasper County are in line to get access to high-speed internet in January, using the emerging technology of Citizens Broadband Radio Service.

Purdue Research Foundation’s newly-formed Innovation Partners Institute is heading up the initiative to provide wireless broadband access to underserved areas of Indiana.

The IPI initiative will help bring internet connectivity to K-12 students in the Kankakee School Corp. to support remote learning.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Purdue Research Foundation Chief Innovation and Collaboration Officer David Broecker explained how and why the government authorized the use of the CBRS spectrum.

“The government earlier this year had an auction process in which that spectrum was made available on a countywide level to different companies and partners,” said Broecker. “And so, in a nutshell, we’re trying to bring CBRS spectrum to develop a private network for kids.”

Broecker says the band is used sparingly by the U.S government. The FCC determined it would allow the spectrum to be used by private companies for specific wireless broadband, such as educational purposes.

Prior to this effort, Broecker says as many as one-third of Kankakee’s student households reported e-learning challenges related to the lack of internet.

“This project will help us overcome the lack of connectivity in our area that suddenly became a huge hurdle for many of our students when we moved to e-learning in the spring,” said Don Street, superintendent of the Kankakee Valley School Corp.

IPI is collaborating with Wabash College, SBA Communications, and Watch Communications.

Rushville-based Watch Communications acquired the CBRS license when the Federal Communications Commission auctioned the mid-band spectrum space that operates in the 3.5 gigahertz band.

“The important work by the Purdue Research Foundation’s Innovation Partners Institute to close the digital divide will result in solutions that can be applied throughout the Midwest and elsewhere,” said Greg Jarman, chief development officer for Watch Communications. “Internet access is not a luxury, and Watch Communications is excited to be a leader in bringing reliable, high-speed Internet to rural communities.”

SBA, which is headquartered in Florida, owns the towers in which the signal will be distributed.

“In this general vicinity, we were able to bring Watch with its CBRS spectrum and SBA with an almost complete existing infrastructure,” said Broecker. “Together we were able to create this private network for eLearning purposes.”

The goal is to launch the service in January to select students in the Kankakee School Corp., who will receive a special decoding box.

Broecker says the service is not for general internet purposes in the home. It is specifically geared for e-learning.  If successful, IPI plans to expand the business model to other regions, including outside of Indiana.

The IPI’s mission goes beyond obtaining internet service. Broecker says it is about addressing community problems by bringing together the best in academic, corporate and government partners with the exact skills and experience to generate novel solutions.