Connecting Southern Illinois with Opportunities Since 2006
The twenty southernmost counties of Illinois have been focused on broadband as an economic development tool since 2006. ConnectSI, a foundation dedicated to fueling these rural economies through broadband, agriculture, education, and healthcare initiatives, partnered with Broadband Illinois and now serves as the Southern eTeam.
The collaborative efforts of ConnectSI, Man-Tra-Con (a workforce development organization), and Southern Illinois University have resulted in a measurable increase in broadband adoption, access, and use throughout the region.
“In mid 2006, we had a 12% penetration rate (households that purchased broadband) and a 25% coverage rate,” said Steve Mitchell, network provider coordinator at ConnectSI. “We created a broadband and economic development plan with specific goals for each year, and by the end of 2011 we had a coverage rate of 70% and an adoption rate of 45%.”
ConnectSI brings together Internet providers, industry leaders, stakeholders, and businesses to determine demand and supply within each county and uses broadband data and maps to address needs.
A broadband request tool on ConnectSI’s website and a regional marketing effort prompted more than 3,000 residents to say “I want my broadband!” and providers are utilizing the tool to identify pools of aggravated demand. Mt.Vernon.Net provided a list serv for all network providers in the Soutnern Illinois region, which helped to aggregate and disseminate the information for broadband requests through ConnectSI’s platform.
“We’ve had success in almost every sector,” said Mitchell. “Right now we’re working with wireless providers to get broadband to rural wineries and remote areas with no service. We’ve also worked closely with the Shawnee Wine Trail and other tourism groups that can use broadband to bring in businesses and promote their services.”
Mitchell said students in the region are able to utilize distance-learning classes at high schools and community colleges, a service that particularly benefits adult students who work full-time during the day and high-school seniors who are working towards advanced placement credit. This opportunity also allows small school districts to save money by sharing teachers and resources.
ConnectSI has addressed a shortage of registered nurses (RNs) in the region though the Southern Illinois Online Nursing Initiative (SIONI). The part-time, hybrid-online associate degree program targets working nurses who want to further their education and helps graduates remain in local jobs rather than migrate to out-of-state employers.
Two providers in the region received Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) funding and are expanding high-speed services throughout the region. Shawnee Telephone Company now provides fiber to more than 1,000 rural homes, including the Hardin County K-12 school and the Hardin County General Hospital. Clearwave Communications is working on a middle-mile project that will connect more than 200 community anchor institutions.
Private companies like Frontier Communications have helped empower Southern Illinois through upgrading rural communities with broadband services.
“We’ve had millions of dollars from the private sector invested in to this region,” said Mitchell. “These guys have done great job of working together to get broadband to their customers. They know that investment in adoption and education pays off.”