Purdue Innovation Partners Institute Works to Bridge Rural Digital Divide

 Launches $1M Public-private Partnership to Improve Connectivity, Support Remote Learning

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue Research Foundation’s Innovation Partners Institute (IPI) is joining forces with Wabash College, SBA Communications, Watch Communications, and the State of Indiana to bring wireless broadband connectivity to the Kankakee School Corporation in Jasper County, Indiana by January 2021. The initiative will serve as a model for bringing high-speed internet access to rural areas across the country where one in four residents still lacks access according to the Pew Research Center.

“We are experiencing a digital transformation in our communities and the wise adoption of technology is critically important to ensure not only success but equity,” said Mohammad Shakouri, Ph.D., who is directing the project for IPI. Shakouri is Director of Community Broadband Initiatives at Joint Venture Silicon Valley and CEO of Microsanj. “Increasingly ‘connectivity’ is viewed just as important to one’s quality of life as food, shelter, education and safety.”

The IPI initiative will help bring wireless internet connectivity to K-12 students in the Kankakee School Corporation in northern Jasper County to support remote learning. Prior to this effort, as many as a third of Kankakee’s student households reported e-learning challenges related to connectivity.

“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 Corporation.

The project is the first of several planned for IPI, an initiative of the Purdue Research Foundation. IPI applies science and technology to solve community needs in collaboration with university, corporate, and government partners by bringing together project leaders with the right expertise and philanthropic funding.

“The Innovation Partners Institute looks for challenging community problems and then aims to assemble an A-list of academic and corporate partners with the exact skills, experiences, and capabilities to collaboratively bring novel solutions forward,” said David Broecker, Chief Innovation and Collaboration Officer at the Purdue Research Foundation. “Because of the institute’s virtual nature, these experts function as ‘innovators in network’ as opposed to ‘entrepreneurs in residence’ who tap their own networks and partners to develop solutions.” 

IPI brought together Shakouri’s broadband deployment expertise with philanthropic funding from Jay and Robyn Stead of Auckland, New Zealand to address the critical internet connectivity need for underserved populations in rural Indiana. Jay is a successful business leader and innovator and graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Industrial Management from the Krannert School of Business in 1986. The Indiana Governors Emergency Educational Relief (GEER) Fund provided 15 percent of the project funding with the remaining funds coming from the Stead family and others.

“The mission of the institute is to help people through the collaborative application of science and technology,” said Troy Hege, Purdue Research Foundation Vice President of Innovation and Technology and Program Manager of the Institute. “This project is a perfect example of that mission in action. It leverages SBA’s telecommunications infrastructure and Watch Communications’ expertise in rural broadband connectivity for a novel application.”

For SBA, the partnership with IPI represents an important step in the development of solutions to help bridge the digital divide for underserved communities.

“The promise of this technology lies in its ability to be customized to suit a community’s needs,” said Piyush Raj, Managing Director, Connected Venues, of SBA Communications. “Remote learning is a critically important application today, but we believe these networks have the ability to support a wide variety of public and private services for communities throughout the U.S., ranging from education and telehealth to IoT (Internet of Things) to public safety and emergency communications. SBA is excited to help lead this transformation and assist this part of Indiana in closing the digital divide.”

Partner Watch Communications focuses on unserved and underserved markets.

“Expanding broadband access to rural areas, especially for students, is one of the most important things that Internet Service Providers can do, and we are proud to be a partner on this vital project,” said Greg Jarman, Chief Development Officer for Watch Communications. “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. Internet access is not a luxury, and Watch Communications is excited to be a leader in bringing reliable, high-speed Internet to rural communities.”

The Innovation Partners Institute operates out of the Convergence Building in the heart of Purdue Research Foundation’s Discovery Party District.

“The Institute is a great catalyst and example of the vision for the district,” said Brian Edelman, president of Purdue Research Foundation. “The district is a live, work, plan, learn environment, and uniquely creates a ‘space’ that is situated at the front door of  Purdue University, which enables engagement with faculty and students, access to intellectual property and research assets, unique capabilities, and engagement with other corporate collaborators.”


Troy Hege, tdhege@prf.org

David Broecker, dabroecker@prf.org

Mo Shakouri, shakouri@jointventure.org

Media inquiries:

Christy Denault, csdenault@yahoo.com 317/417-6322

About Innovation Partners Institute

Innovation Partners Institute (IPI) is an innovation community designed to turn concepts into early-stage solutions to solve big problems. The Institute serves as a collaborative “place in the middle” bringing together ideas and talent, hand-picked external experts, financial and corporate resources, and critical capabilities to address a specific challenge. IPI is centered at the Discovery Park District at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, in a 400+ acre connected community powered by a 5G+ technology infrastructure of fiber, an edge data center, a multi-use spectrum including CBRS, and multiple Internet of Things and artificial intelligence test beds. Visit us at partnersforinnovation.org.

About SBA Communications

SBA Communications Corporation (SBA) is an independent owner and operator of wireless communications infrastructure, which includes towers, buildings, rooftops, distributed antenna systems (DAS) and small cells. Founded in 1989 and headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, SBA has operations in fourteen markets across the Americas and South Africa. Listed on NASDAQ under the symbol: SBAC, our organization is also part of the S&P 500 and is one of the top 20 Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) based on market capitalization.  For more information, please visit: www.sbasite.com.

About Watch Communications

Founded in 1992, Watch Communications is an Internet Service Provider (ISP) using a combination of fixed wireless and fiber technologies to serve residential and business customers throughout Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky. Watch Communications began as a wireless cable TV provider and expanded service offerings in 1998 to include the Internet. Since its creation, Watch Communications has focused on unserved and underserved small and rural markets. Watch Communications is a subsidiary of Benton Ridge Telephone. The Benton Ridge family of companies also includes Community Fiber Solutions in Indiana and Q Wireless in Kentucky and Indiana.