Last week, I had the privilege to attend the first East Central Illinois Regional Broadband Summit. The summit was put on by the East Central Illinois Development Corporation (ECIDC) and hosted in Mattoon, Illinois. The catalyst behind this summit gathering non-profit organizations and private corporations together stems from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and other grant funds. The stimulus package has particular provisions in it to improve broadband access to households that don’t have reliable access to broadband Internet for the quality of life improvements that the Internet provides. The East Central Illinois Regional Broadband Summit was arranged to bring together those organizations that have the capability to make a difference for rural Americans.
From the ECIDC site:
Exhibitors and presenters offered information about broadband service options and planned broadband expansion projects in the region. This included presentations by representatives of Illinois Century Network, Illinois Rural Health Net, Cellular One, and Partnership for a Connected Illinois, organizations which recently received federal stimulus funding to enhance broadband service in east central Illinois through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Other Broadband Summit presenters included representatives from Consolidated Communications and Frontier. Shelby Electric Cooperative and Wireless Mike’s also participated by offering informational booths.
The ECIDC is a regional organization focused on driving economic development in 11 neighboring counties in Illinois, inlcuding: Christian, Shelby, Moultrie, Douglas, Coles, Edgar, Clark, Cumberland, Effingham, Jasper, and Crawford. The Regional Broadband Summit focused on the local area but many of the partnerships were naturally working beyond those boundaries and even state-wide. The interest in broadband is to push for better infrastructure for area schools, health care providers, corporations, mom and pop stores, and make the area look more attractive for residents and corporations.
Much of the information covered during the presentation is summarized nicely in the booklet provided at the Summit. You can now download the booklet from the ECIDC site. Download the booklet here (PDF).
In the 5-10 minute presentations that each organization gave, there was some details that were not in in the booklet linked to above. Here are some of my notes trying to capture those details:
Partnership for a Connected Illinois
Partnership for a Connected Illinois can be found at broadband.illinois.gov. They held an event on September 27th to set the stage for broadband investment projects going on around Illinois. The federal government is investing $7 billion in broadband around the country. Illinois received $244 million in federal grants and funds, will have $70 million in state funds, and has over $40 million in private corporations expanding our infrastructure. They want sufficient broadband to create and sustain jobs while aligning with the national broadband plan and regional or county-wide plans.
The Partnership has 3 goals: Collect and publish data for broadband access in Illinois, improve access for broadband needs, and help adoption of broadband by those who have access to improve their quality of life. To achieve these and their mission, they’ve built partnerships around the state and following the September meeting will begin working with private organizations.
Illinois Century Network
The Illinois Century Network is run under the Illinois Department of Central Management Services. In their 10 year history, they have managed to connect 7,000 schools, libraries, local governments, and not-for-profit organizations. They were successful in round 2 of requesting federal funds with other Illinois partners and they hope to build the business case to move from leased lines to state-owned fiber lines. The partnership is being called the Illinois Broadband Opportunity Partnership and you can see the map of those projects in the map above or in the packet.
The Illinois Century Network wants to expand to a 55 county area with 2,000 miles of new fiber and lighting up another 1,000 miles through leased lines or other agreements. With that new fiber, they hope to connect 400 additional organizations, building anchors and connecting community colleges. Their speeds will go up to 10 Gbps with planned equipment upgrades. The fiber infrastructure will be available to any public or private organization. They’ve heard from private organizations (ISPs for example) that they want to lease those fiber lines from the state. The connections will then connect back to Chicago, a hub for commercial Internet backbone and Internet2. The project is to be completed in 3 years, will connect 400 new organizations while already serving 7,000 and working with other private or public partners to enable others that the ICN doesn’t connect yet.
Illinois Rural Health Net
Illinois Rural Health Net works from Northern Illinois University with a broadband development group. The NIUnet connects 5 campuses and Chicago. The Illinois Rural Health Net connects Illinois health care providers; over 85 hospitals are on the network. Illinois Rural Health Net brings fiber to the premise and coordinates it mostly through outsourced approaches to private sector companies or other organizations like the ICN. It has contracts for 1,000 miles of fiber and plans for 1,500 additional miles. The IRHN provides Gigabit up and down for hospitals and clinics or 100Mbps where Point-to-Point wireless is required due to terrain restrictions. Its network growth is fully paid for by federal and state matching funds. The group hopes its investment will lead to more fiber around the state and then ISPs or private organizations will build from those junctions with last-mile connections.
The rest of the presentations were done by private companies: Cellular One, Consolidated Communications, and Frontier.
- Cellular One received a $6.1 million grant, a $6.1 million loan, $1 million in funding from Illinois and Cellular One is matching it with an $11 million investment.
- Cellular One currently serves 11 counties along the eastern border of Illinois and plans to add at least 100 towers in the next 3 years.
- Consolidated Communications talked about the services that are available today with the most notable being its new Extended Reach DSL, almost doubling the distance normal DSL can reach.
- Frontier serves 552 communities in Illinois after acquiring some Verizon locations, with about 600,000 customers.
- Frontier didn’t receive any federal or state funds but is investing its own funds with a 180 day plan to connect 66,000 more households.
The rest of the time at the Summit was spent networking, asking questions, and forming partnerships to work with these organizations to enable broadband access to those in Illinois who were previously out of reach. The first East Central Illinois Regional Broadband Summit was an interesting and informative time. My thanks to those who coordinated and presented. If you’d like to learn more, I recommend checking out the ECIDC website.
Please forgive any inaccuracies in this article. I tried to record and fact-check all data points as possible but figures were flying fast and ironically the venue where the Summit was held did not provide Wifi access.