Illinois Governor JB Pritzker last week introduced the state's new Broadband Advisory Panel, comprising 25 private citizens and government agents who will work with ISPs to guide the state's $420 million investment in broadband infrastructure.
The August 15 announcement is one of many moves multiple states are making to bolster local infrastructure to compete with neighboring states, improve residents' quality of life and education, attract new business and other investors like higher-ed and healthcare, and encourage younger people to stay. Once viewed as a leader in connectivity due to the 2014 creation of the Office of Broadband Development and its Border to Border Broadband state grant fund, Minnesota gave out no grants in 2018 -- but a new governor now is "pushing hard for a broadband reboot," according to The Daily Yonder.
Earlier this month, Arkansas said it will invest $25 million in high-speed broadband to all rural communities with at least 500 residents by 2022. Governor Asa Hutchinson backed the program, "Arkansas Rural Connect," which put the state's economic director in charge of broadband deployment. For Indiana's part, state Governor Eric Holcomb announced this month that $22.1 million will go to rural broadband infrastructure via 11 projects. Ultimately, they will connect about 4,800 homes and businesses across 12 counties as phase one of Indiana's $100 million "Next Level Broadband" expansion program, described by Holcomb in February as the state's largest single investment in rural broadband.
In the case of Illinois, funds are part of the state's Rebuild Illinois capital plan, which set aside $400 million to partnering with ISPs and another $20 million toward the Illinois Century Network. The latter serves K-12 schools, as well as higher-ed, public libraries, museums, state and local governments and healthcare organizations.
"High-speed broadband Internet is an absolute necessity for economic progress and educational attainment, but too many of our towns and counties and communities have been left out of the digital revolution, especially downstate," said Pritzker, in a statement. "Our Broadband Advisory Council will be guided by three areas of focus for Illinois' success in the 21st century: education, telehealth and economic development."
The council plans to give its recommendations to the governor and General Assembly by the end of this year. This report will detail how Illinois should expand broadband state-wide.
Broadbander in Chief
As required by Illinois law, Governor JK Pritzker appointed seven industry insiders to the state's new Broadband Advisory Panel. They included execs from Frontier, AT&T, Verizon, Metro Communications and Comcast, plus the Satellite Broadcast & Communications Association and the Illinois Rural Broadband Association.
State statute requires the board to include at least seven industry-knowledgeable members. The governor and his aides appointed service provider executives such as: Karen Boswell, director of Government and Regulatory Affairs at Frontier Communications; Melia Carter, director of Government Affairs at Verizon; Zak Horn, president of Metro Communications; Christopher Nelson, Comcast's director of Government and Regulatory Affairs for the Chicago region; and Deno Perdiou, AT&T's director of Government and Regulatory Affairs for Illinois. Also, the board includes industry organization executives Steve Hill, president, Satellite Broadcast and Communications Association; and Rick Holzmacher, director of Government Affairs for the Illinois Rural Broadband Association.
The seven governor-appointed members will join 18 members designated by statute to round out the 25-member council, according to the state. Some of these statute-appointed members also may have broadband knowledge: Shelby Electric Coop, where board member Josh Shallenberger works, offers Internet and related services via sister company PWR-net Coop. Other organizations included are the Association of Housing Authorities, Board of Higher Education, Department on Aging, Farm Bureau, Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and Commerce Commission.
Far Beyond the Windy City
By the end of this year, the panel is scheduled to give its recommendations on how to cover the entire state -- far beyond major cities like Chicago -- with broadband that can support telehealth, education and business growth. (Photo by Eternal Seconds, Unsplash)
Rebuild Illinois is part of Connect Illinois, a larger program that will consolidate state resources and increase public-private partnerships and collaboration to expand broadband access.
"The expanded broadband program will provide high-speed, secure Internet access at no cost to Illinois K-12 public schools," said Ron Guerrier, chief information officer at Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology, in a statement. "Digital learning will soon be available to all in our state, regardless of geography or economics."
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