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Illinois Country Living

August 2007 Issue: FeatureCommentaryCurrents SafetyGardenEnergy SolutionsFinest Cooking


Connecting Rural Illinois to the World
Broadband service is critical to rural economic development

Kay Gregg

Kay Gregg, Chief Executive Officer of Rural Partners

"Broadband" is becoming one of those buzz words that comes up in conversation not only in urban areas, but rural areas as well. Economic development plans around the state all include broadband connectivity, whether it is wireless, satellite or other connectivity strategies.

Senator Durbin has held two summits, covering the southern and central regions of the state, over the past year to identify existing resources and providers as well as hear from communities regarding infrastructure concerns. He is planning a third summit for the northern region of the state for this summer.

Legislation would establish a new source of funding for public-private partnerships. Senator Durbin recently introduced legislation, (S. 1190) the Connected Nation Act of 2007, to encourage the rapid deployment of high-quality, affordable broadband Internet service, especially in rural areas.

The legislation creates a matching grant program to be administered through the Department of Commerce. The program will assist statewide or regional public-private partnerships to increase broadband access, map resources and build demand.

Illinois Lt. Governor Pat Quinn chairs the Illinois Broadband Deployment Council that convenes twice a year, and has been a proponent of opening avenues of funding through initiatives such as the Vince Demuzio Rural Broadband Initiative, a funding opportunity to assist communities with high end equipment and services.

The Lieutenant Governor's office will be hosting the Rural Telecommunications Congress Annual Conference, Rural Telecon, 10th Annual Conference, "Broadband: Capturing the Promise" Oct. 14-17, 2007, in Springfield. This event typically attracts economic and community developers, higher education, healthcare practitioners, and community leaders from across the country.

There are four bills currently in the Illinois State Legislature that address telemedicine issues. Physicians now provide clinical practices over the Internet to rural areas of the state to ensure that rural residents have access to physicians and specialists such as psychiatrists, psychologists and dermatologists.

Rural Partners links rural areas of the state to share strategies for success and learn from less successful efforts. Here's a sample of these projects:

Salem - US Sonet joined forces with approximately 15 local investors from the Salem, Centralia and Mt. Vernon, Illinois area to pursue the development of a state-of-the-art "fiber optic data network" designed to offer local residents and commercial and institutional subscribers in and around the City of Salem with convenient and competitively priced access to high quality telephone, digital cable TV and high-speed Internet access services.

The Quincy wireless network is available in parks, green spaces, and has been widely used by downtown merchants and customers.

The Southern Illinois project, Connect SI, is a collaborative, regional economic strategy for the southern 20 counties of Illinois. The initiative is built upon broadband connectivity, and the concept that the dispersed assets of the region can be connected to make the region a driving force in the world economy. The goal of the project is to produce measurable, transformative and sustainable results that will allow Southern Illinois to thrive rather than simply survive.

When we are competing with foreign countries or regions of the world, we as individual communities or counties are nearly powerless. However, using high-speed broadband infrastructure to connect our assets makes us one large community, thereby enabling us to compete on a larger scale. Broadband is now a driver in economic development across the state of Illinois and it only continues to pick up momentum. The opportunities are limitless.

More Information:

Kay Gregg is the Chief Executive Officer of Rural Partners, the State Rural Development Council of Illinois, 3085 Stevenson Drive, St. 302, Springfield, IL 62703. 217-585-9242.

The opinions and views of guest commentators are their own and may not represent those of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives or the electric co-ops of Illinois.



© 2007 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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