OP-ED: Building a Better Illinois Through Broadband

On the heels of President Obama’s visit to Iowa Wednesday and his State of the Union address next week, broadband is on our minds. ‘What do these announcements mean for Internet speeds and availability in my area?’ is the question Illinoisans are asking. According to Partnership for a Connected Illinois’ (PCI) research, 99.75% of Illinois residents have access to a high-speed Internet connection, as defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Unfortunately, access does not lead to adoption. Whether it is due to cost of services, monopoly of providers, or lack of education or technology, nearly 30% of Illinoisans have not yet adopted broadband.

President Obama has outlined plans to increase coverage in rural areas through government grants and loans, while providing tax incentives to Internet Service Providers to expand coverage and lower costs. Federal funding and grants have been successful in Illinois before. Five years ago, Partnership for a Connected Illinois received $6.5 million from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to implement broadband infrastructure, adoption, and education programs statewide. Providers installed over 6,000 miles of infrastructure, connecting 36,000 subscribers. Nine municipalities across the state operate their own broadband networks, with four of those cities offering gigabit speeds. Moreover, Illinois broadband providers can strategically grow their coverage thanks to PCI’s geographic information system center broadband mapping.

Now is the time for the Illinois to continue with this momentum. Educational programs and trainings can help eliminate the digital divide that exists within the state and lead to higher adoption rates. Tax incentives and grant opportunities for providers can reduce monopolies and allow competitive broadband coverage and pricing. All of these things lead to a more connected Illinois. An Illinois with better schools, better healthcare, better public safety, and better local economies is an Illinois that we should all want and that we can achieve through better broadband.

Partnership for a Connected Illinois’ Five-Year Report: Broadband Everywhere for Jobs and Prosperity details Illinois’ broadband success. The full report is available HERE.

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Partnership for a Connected Illinois 1337 Wabash Ave. Springfield, IL 62704 Phone: (217) 886-4228 Fax: (217) 718-4546 info@broadbandillinois.org