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Gov. Pritzker announces $50 million to kick off state's largest-ever broadband expansion

(WCAX)
Published: Jun. 24, 2020 at 2:10 PM CDT
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Launching the state’s largest-ever broadband expansion initiative, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced $50 million in Connect Illinois grants to 28 projects touching every region of the state. The $50 million in state grants will be matched by $65 million in nonstate funding for a total of $115 million, with plans to expand access for more than 26,000 homes, businesses, farms, and community institutions across Illinois.

These funds are being released as part of the state's $420 million statewide broadband expansion, Connect Illinois—the Governor’s plan to bring basic access to all communities by 2024. This plan aims to improve access through an unprecedented capital investment and with the nation’s largest grant matching program.

“Connect Illinois is about the right of all our communities to access health care, education, and economic opportunity – because in the 21st century, all those rights are tied to digital connectivity,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “The unacceptable consequences of disparities in broadband access were clear before the COVID-19 pandemic – and over the last few months, we’ve seen firsthand what it means when a small business that had to close its doors has no online shop, what it means when an elderly couple has no safe way to get medical advice at a distance, what it means when a child has no ability to access homework assignments online. This work has never been more urgent – the disadvantages that persist when our communities are left out of opportunity demand ambitious efforts to bring them to a close.”

With the first round of Connect Illinois grants, 18 internet service providers, rural cooperatives, nonprofits and local governments were granted a total of $50 million to invest in growing broadband capacity across the state. Round one leverages over $65 million in nonstate match for a total of more than $115 million to support fiber infrastructure investments made over the next 12-18 months.

Grants were awarded to a diverse group of recipients representing every region of the state, with projects supporting fully scalable broadband infrastructure that will serve these areas for decades into the future.

In the Stateline, JoCarrol Energy Cooperative will receive over $6 million for a last mile fiber project. JoCarrol 2 will serve 1122 unserved households and 150 unserved businesses, 213 unserved farms and 2 unserved community anchor institutions through rural areas of Jo Daviess County.

In a funding partnership with the State of Illinois, JoCarroll Energy, Inc. (NFP) will improve unserved/underserved areas to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload. Building a fiber-to-the-premise network that provides world-class, high speed broadband services to households, businesses and farms in the grant area improves access to critical school e-learning applications while also making agricultural operations more efficient and enhancing crop production through enabled precision agriculture tools.

The broadband network will improve access to rural health care resources and will stimulate a more robust local area economy.

JoCarrol 3 will serve approximately 424 unserved households and 87 underserved businesses, and 126 underserved farms throughout rural areas of Carroll, Jo Daviess, Stephenson and Whiteside Counties.

In a funding partnership with the State of Illinois, Jo-Carroll Energy, Inc (NFP) will improve unserved/underserved areas to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload.

“Jo-Carroll Energy through its Sand Prairie business unit is excited about the opportunity that the Connect Illinois Program brings to accelerate fiber buildout throughout two rural areas of our service territory,” said Mike Casper, CEO, Jo-Carroll Energy Cooperative. “Our buildout will provide fiber to nearly 1,600 rural homes and businesses, including farms. We look forward to the public/private partnership and the expanded benefits in education, telehealth, precision agriculture and economic development that it will bring to our members.”

The Governor’s Connect Illinois initiative directs a total $420 million broadband expansion – including a $400 million grant matching program, and the $20 million capital program for the Illinois Century Network, a high-speed broadband network serving K-12 and higher education institutions, among others.

This includes a requirement by internet service providers to match grants put forward in the Rebuild Illinois capital plan – yielding an additional $400 million for broadband investment in Illinois.

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