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$50 Million Matching Funds in Statewide Broadband Expansion
Illinois Ag Connection - 02/10/2020

Governor JB Pritzker announced that the state releasing $50 million in funding for the first round of matching grants of Connect Illinois, the state's $420 million statewide broadband expansion.

"We're beginning to deliver on an ambitious 4- year plan to deliver broadband to homes, businesses and community institutions like hospitals and libraries in every corner of the state," said Pritzker. "I want to be clear: This isn't about a person's ability to check Facebook. This is about a small business owner having the tools she needs to reach new customers. This is about an elderly couple's ability to get access to medical experts anywhere in the nation even if they live in a rural community. This is about giving children the ability to research their homework assignments online. In short, this is about the right of all our communities to access health care, education, and economic opportunity."

Applicants are required to provide at least 50% of non-state funding, effectively doubling the size of the nation's largest state competitive grant program to expand high-speed internet.

Applicants are anticipated to include internet service providers, rural cooperatives, nonprofits and local governments. Grant responses for the initial $50 million round of funding can be submitted through Friday, April 3, 2020. Up to $5 million per project will be available during the first round, and subsequent rounds will follow over the course of the next several years. The Notice of Funding Opportunity is available online.

Connect Illinois is centered around three main outcomes: education, telehealth and economic development. It aims to provide universal access to basic broadband for homes, businesses, and community anchor institutions by 2024.

The Rebuild Illinois capital plan dedicated $420 million toward broadband expansion -- $400 million for the grant program and $20 million to strengthen the Illinois Century Network. The matching requirements in the grant program will leverage state funds to attract at least an additional $400 million from internet service providers.

"Fast, reliable internet isn't a luxury anymore, it's a necessity," Sen. Bill Cunningham of Chicago. "Broadband access is critical for everyone, from students to small business owners, and it's vital that we continue to invest in its availability in all corners of our state. We've done a lot of great work on this issue so far, and I look forward to continuing to work with Governor Pritzker and my colleagues in the legislature to expand this critical resource."

"I am honored to represent rural and downstate Illinois as a member of the Broadband Advisory Council. Funding for new and improved infrastructure will give more residents access to high-speed Internet, provide better e-learning opportunities for schools, and boost telehealth programs in areas that do not have easy access to specialized medical facilities and doctors," said Sen. Jil Tracy of Quincy. "We are providing resources to give our communities, our farmers and our local businesses access to the technology they need to compete in today's economy."

"I am proud to stand today with the Governor and the other members of the Broadband Advisory Council as we move from design to execution in expanding broadband Internet access statewide to reach Illinois communities still left behind by the broadband revolution, bringing additional resources for education, economic growth, healthcare, and other areas benefiting from Internet resources," said Rep. John Connor of Romeoville. "Using the Broadband Council's comprehensive plans presented today, Illinois begins to bridge the digital divide that separates city from country to strengthen Illinois through more expansive broadband Internet access statewide."

"Internet access has profound impacts on opportunities in education, jobs, health care and nearly every other aspect of daily life," said Assistant House Minority Leader Keith Wheeler of Oswego. "Expanding broadband access to every corner of Illinois, particularly rural communities, is vital to move Illinois' economy forward. I applaud the Governor for making this critical investment that will lift up students, families and job creators. Together we will build broadband infrastructure across Illinois that is second to none."

"Investing in a secure technology infrastructure, such as the Illinois Century Network (ICN), brings the world to the fingertips of teachers and students," said Mary Reynolds, group CIO for Education at the Department of Innovation & Technology (DoIT). "Illinois students will have equitable access to digital learning opportunities as a result of broadband expansion through Connect Illinois."

"What makes Connect Illinois sing is its historic investment in infrastructure coupled with meaningful community engagement in broadband planning and capacity building," said Adrianne Benton Furniss, Executive Director, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. "Community leaders of all stripes should play an important role because they are closest to local needs and have earned peoples' confidence and trust. Their voice in the creation of local broadband access, adoption, digital inclusion, and utilization strategies will help to ensure the success of Governor Pritzker's long-term economic development plans for the state of Illinois."

"Broadband access is a critical component of modern agriculture, but far too many Illinoisans are missing out," said Richard Guebert Jr., president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. "Not only can broadband access improve the economic well-being of farmers, but it can also help revitalize rural Illinois and boost our economy."

"The Partnership for a Connected Illinois looks forward to partnering with the Office of Broadband to leverage this broadband investment to increase access to services delivered via telehealth, and therefore, improve equity and health outcomes for patients in need," said Nancy Kaszak, director of the Illinois Telehealth Initiative at the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. "I applaud Governor Pritzker for his leadership on this issue. This historic investment into broadband will allow Illinois to become a leader on telehealth. This opens the door for to healthcare in rural and underserved communities, particularly for opioid addiction recovery and behavioral health care for children around the state."

"Broadband connects people, stimulates entrepreneurship, and helps close the skills gap in rural and disadvantaged communities," said Bill McBride, executive director of the National Governors Association. "Our research and work with governors' offices on broadband shows that investments in this critical infrastructure pay social and economic dividends for years to come. We applaud Governor Pritzker for his leadership in bringing high-speed, affordable broadband access to the people of Illinois."

"The Connect Illinois Broadband Strategic Plan rightly recognizes that ubiquitous broadband usage is a necessary part of delivering Illinois' future progress in agriculture, energy, health care, information, manufacturing, and transportation," said Jonathan Sallet, former general counsel, Federal Communications Commission. "That's why it's so important that the Illinois broadband plan seeks progress on deployment, plus digital skills and equity."

"Broadband grants will help extend quality, high-speed service to hard-to-reach areas of the state," said Josh Shallenberger, CEO of the Shelby Electric Cooperative. "Like rural electrification a century before, Connect Illinois will drive progress throughout meaningful partnership."


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