Tom Dakich, managing partners of Digital Crossroad, talks about fiber optics along the Indiana Toll Road at a Thursday session in Hammond. Staff photo by John J. Watkins
Tom Dakich, managing partners of Digital Crossroad, talks about fiber optics along the Indiana Toll Road at a Thursday session in Hammond. Staff photo by John J. Watkins
HAMMOND — Lakefront data center Digital Crossroad and Vivacity Networks — which its CEO describes as "the plumbers of the internet" — are teaming up to invest $25 million to expand broadband access across northern Indiana.

They plan to build the Digital Crossroad Fiber Network along the new fiber lines that run alongside the Indiana Toll Road. The project is touted as a major expansion of broadband across the northern part of the Hoosier state that will create new economic opportunities and improve internet access at a time when connectivity is more crucial than ever to daily life.

“The Digital Crossroad Fiber Network is an unprecedented stride in our state’s march toward broadband access for every Hoosier,” said Tom Dakich, managing partner for Digital Crossroad. “This revolutionary project will bring the world’s fastest fiber networks closer than ever to every community along the Indiana Toll Road corridor.”

Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch and a group of state and local officials have been touting the investment at a series of roundtable events, including Thursday at Lost Marsh Golf Course.

“Hoosiers know that access to high-speed internet is a critical factor, not just for economic development and businesses, but also for the quality of life of our families and communities,” Crouch said. “Indiana has already made significant commitments to broadband expansion and will continue supporting collaborative efforts like these as we work together to connect all Hoosiers.”

Crouch said an estimated 400,000 Hoosiers were still mired in "internet darkness," which was increasingly no longer viable, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that drove many activities online. The state legislature considered 18 bills during the last legislative session to try to extend high-speed broadband to everyone in Indiana, she said.

"Being connected is no longer a luxury. It's a necessity," she said. "Workers work online. Students learn online. Health care is provided online through telehealth appointments."

Over the next six months, Digital Crossroad and Vivacity Network will build out a wholesale, open-access facility extending the fiber line along the Indiana Toll Road into neighboring communities and across state lines, including to the "super hub" data center at 350 E. Cermak Road in Chicago that's hailed as "the backbone of the internet."

Local internet service providers, wireless network providers, municipalities, libraries, utilities and schools will be able to connect to the fastest fiber network infrastructure in the area. Users will pay fees for access, allowing Digital Crossroad to bring in a return on its $7 million investment and Vivacity to capitalize off its $18 million investment, Dakich said.

"These different stakeholders will come in and use the network and pay us access charges," he said. "There's 1.3 million businesses and people in the counties contiguous to the toll road. A good chunk of those people will be affected. Their providers will be more efficient, and the internet will get quicker. The internet will get better and more efficient."

The Digital Crossroad Fiber Network will run about 156 miles along Interstate 90 between Illinois and Ohio. The broadband conduit will cut through seven Indiana counties, including Lake, Porter and LaPorte.

“For the past several years, the Indiana Toll Road Concession Company, Digital Crossroads, Vivacity and others have been developing the key pieces of communications infrastructure to unlock the potential of the Crossroads of America,” said Scott Bergs, CEO of Vivacity Networks. “We are thrilled to partner with Digital Crossroad to bring those pieces together to fuel Indiana’s growth technology, economy and livability.”

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