(The Center Square) – A new program will help communities figure out how they want to spend incoming broadband investments.
Illinois communities have a lot of funding available for capital investments right now and more on the way. The Accelerate Illinois Broadband Infrastructure Planning Program recently announced by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) aims to help them sort through the decisions.
Director of the DCEO Office of Broadband Matt Schmit says there isn’t a county in the Land of Lincoln where broadband investment isn’t justified.
“We think that broadband is a great use of those dollars, be we also recognize that not all communities are on a level playing field when it comes to using those dollars, forging public/private partnerships, and taking next steps,” he said.
Schmit says this program will help make sure all communities have fair access to incoming infrastructure funding.
“Accelerate Illinois is designed specifically to help communities think through their vision and how to take next steps with talking to area providers and leveraging dollars,” he said.
Basically, the state is offering a crash course on broadband investments through at least 30 hours of expert consultation, Schmit said.
“On the back end of this, the community will have a much better understanding of where they are in terms of their broadband needs, where they want to go and what specific steps they can take both from a funding standpoint and from a partnership standpoint again to make that vision a reality,” he said.
What kind of internet connection is put in is up to the community, according to Schmit.
“A focus on fiber optics and building out wired connectivity is a priority, but we also recognize that’s not necessarily the perfect fit for every community in Illinois,” he said.
Striking the right balance between federal funders and local leaders and community needs is the goal, said Schmit.
“The point is, if you don’t have the connectivity, those sorts of uses are not enabled: telehealth, remote learning, remote work, advances in agriculture like precision ag – you absolutely need connectivity,” he said. “We can talk a lot about the numbers and households that are unserved in Illinois, but at the end of the day it really comes down to ‘Are you able to use broadband for these incredibly important applications?’, and in far too many Illinois households, you just aren’t able to do that today.”