IBTA, AIEC announce broadband infrastructure partnership

The Illinois Broadband & Telecommunications Association (IBTA) and the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives (AIEC) announced a partnership focused on bringing broadband to homes and businesses lacking adequate internet service, many of which are in the rural areas of the state.

State and federal officials have placed a priority on ensuring every home and business has access to broadband. To achieve that goal, broadband infrastructure grants have been established to create partnerships between the government and broadband providers that make it more economical to build high-speed networks in unserved areas.

The most recent broadband map from the Federal Communications Commission showed Illinois with 235,000 unserved homes and businesses lacking basic internet service and another 131,000 as underserved. Illinois has 3.1 million homes and businesses that meet the definition of “served,” receiving internet speeds of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload.

Many of the unserved and underserved are in rural areas where the cost to build networks to sparse populations is expensive with not enough customers per square mile to earn a return on the investment. Broadband grant programs help cover the financial gap.

The state of Illinois is seeking partners through the current round of the Connect Illinois broadband grant program, which has pledged $350 million in grants to partner with eligible providers. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced the state allocations of the federal $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program in which Illinois will receive $1.04 billion for grants to expand broadband access. The BEAD program allocations to each state were based on a formula including the number of homes and businesses lacking adequate broadband service.

IBTA member companies have experience building broadband networks and partnering with state and federal agencies to provide access to high-speed internet where service is lacking. Illinois’ electric cooperatives have experience building electric distribution networks to serve rural communities and several Illinois electric cooperatives have begun building fiberoptic broadband networks for rural customers as well. Together, the IBTA and AIEC member companies are positioned to establish partnerships and support to take advantage of these grant programs to expand broadband service throughout Illinois.

This partnership will allow for collaboration among IBTA and AIEC members to support projects and grants to bring broadband to homes, farms and businesses that lack the basic internet service necessary today. It will benefit AIEC’s member cooperatives that are actively engaged as broadband providers, are interested in partnering with a current broadband provider or want to learn more about broadband.

The IBTA represents 40 broadband and telecommunications service providers throughout Illinois and 80 additional businesses that provide consulting, products and services to the Illinois broadband and telecommunications industry. The AIEC represents 25 electric distribution cooperatives throughout Illinois and 65 associate member companies that provide products and services.