Illinois is expanding broadband in rural areas

Ultra high-speed Internet access is a key to success for rural Illinois, now and in the future. In order to remain competitive in today’s digital society, Illinois must have broadband infrastructure that is second to none. Access to quality, high-speed Internet for all Illinois residents provides opportunities for a better education, better jobs, and ultimately better ­living here in the Land of Lincoln.

That’s why we’ve invested more than $71 million in broadband throughout the state as part of the Illinois Jobs Now! capital construction program. This investment has ­leveraged more than $214 million in additional funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. More than 3,000 miles of fiber optic cable has been installed through these projects, and there is more to come.

These projects, and the com­panies that are undertaking them, are doing great things to keep Illinois ­connected. Clearwave Communications, a Harrisburg company, recently completed a high-speed connectivity project in southern Illinois. The project used $11.3 million in state funds, as well as federal and private dollars, to install 751 miles of fiber in 23 counties, connecting 232 community anchor institutions.

The Illinois Century Network has leveraged $62 million in federal funds with $34 million in state and local funds to upgrade the state’s research and education network to a 10 gigabit fiber network. The network upgrade has resulted in lower operating costs while more than tripling broadband speeds for K12 schools, higher ­education, libraries, museums and health care throughout 55 counties in Illinois.

Through Illinois Jobs Now! we also established the Gigabit Communities Challenge, which seeks proposals from private and public ­organizations promising to deploy ultra high-speed broadband in communities throughout Illinois. Each project must connect at least 1,000 end users to Gigabit broadband speeds. Through this program, $1.5 million was awarded to build an ultra high-speed broadband network in southern Illinois.

A partnership between Frontier North, Inc., the City of Carbondale, Southern Illinois University and Connect SI empowered Frontier to build a high-speed fiber optic network to Carbondale’s businesses, schools, hospitals and neighborhoods. Gigabit broadband, which is up to 100 times faster than the speeds currently ­available, will help recruit new business to the region and enable Southern Illinois University’s scholars, innovators and entrepreneurs to connect across the globe. Capabilities for telemedicine and telehealth through the university’s school of medicine will also greatly impact citizens in underserved areas in southern Illinois.

Illinois is also the site of a federal pilot project that supplies qualifying customers from seven rural Illinois phone companies with a refurbished computer for $50 and a year’s worth of high-speed Internet access for as low as $9.95 a month. The “Better Broadband, Better Lifeline” project, one of only 14 in the nation, targeted an urgent need in Illinois, where roughly four out of ten low income families still don’t have access to the benefits of high-speed Internet.

The Citizens Utility Board assisted in the project along with phone companies spanning 35 counties in ­western and southern Illinois ­including: Adams Telephone Co-Operative, Cass Telephone Company, Harrisonville Telephone Company, Madison Telephone Company, Mid Century Telephone Cooperative, Shawnee Telephone Company and Wabash Telephone Cooperative. The pilot project will last a year and help the FCC develop a plan for offering permanent broadband discounts to ­qualifying families in the future.

Governor Pat Quinn served Illinois as Treasurer and Lieutenant Governor before ­becoming the state’s 41st governor. He has long championed the ­deployment of broadband.
Governor Pat Quinn served Illinois as Treasurer and Lieutenant Governor before ­becoming the state’s 41st governor. He has long championed the ­deployment of broadband.

In addition to this project, Illinois’ telephone cooperatives have been pioneers in bringing fiber optic broadband service to rural areas. And we should also recognize the work of electric cooperatives like Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative, Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative, Jo-Carroll Energy, Shelby Electric Cooperative and recently Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative, for bringing ­wireless broadband service to their rural service areas. Prairie Power, Inc., an Illinois generation and transmission cooperative, is also adding a fiber optic network that will provide smart grid communication capabilities and backbone broadband infrastructure for rural areas it serves.

The best part of Illinois’ broadband initiative isn’t about fiber optics — it is about a world-class community network built to drive jobs and new opportunities for rural Illinois. While we’ve made a lot of progress, our work isn’t finished. Let’s work together and continue building broadband infrastructure and new opportunities.