The Illinois Broadband Lab collaboration between the state’s Office of Broadband and University of Illinois System wrapped up our statewide listening tour – and we’re pleased to report that 1,256 Illinoisans participated in a total of 54 in-person and virtual listening sessions that covered 20 communities and hit every region of the state.
Thank you so much for the part you played in helping us reach residents and organizations in your community!
Here are some of the key takeaways that will shape our plans for the incoming federal infrastructure and digital equity funds:
- Affordability of both internet subscriptions and devices (e.g., computers, tablets) is a pervasive issue affecting urban and rural areas alike.
- Urban participants raised concerns about bandwidth limitations in high-density residential buildings, citing regularly interrupted connections.
- There is a need for accessible digital learning opportunities that help build knowledge on cyber security and privacy.
- There is also a need for accessible programs in multiple languages and with specific training for learners across ages.
- Suburban and rural areas indicated affordability gaps were paired with gaps in access to quality, reliable, high-speed broadband that can support more than one person online at a time.
- Many rural homes and communities have very limited options in internet providers and technologies; in some areas, the only option is fixed wireless or satellite service, which can be unreliable and expensive.
- Barriers to reliable home internet access cause real-life adverse impacts, including students struggling with remote learning and homework, remote workers facing hardship, lost income, or missed opportunity, major inconvenience and schedule disruptions for those who must rely on public Wi-Fi access points such as local libraries or fast-food restaurants for their daily internet needs.
- Many local businesses face daily challenges serving their customers and operating efficiently due to unreliable internet.
- Local regulations and municipal zoning laws can slow down the buildout of high-speed infrastructure in underserved areas, highlighting the need for further collaboration between municipalities and providers.
To discover more insights and how they will be incorporated in the years ahead, you can read our draft Connect Illinois Five-Year Action Plan. Although the Five-Year Action Plan is neither binding nor subject to federal review, it gives an overview for future Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) and digital equity priorities for Illinois.
Later this Fall, we will be hosting additional sessions with key stakeholders to share the BEAD Initial Proposal (which is binding and opens the formal challenge process of the existing federal broadband map) as well as the draft Statewide Digital Equity Plan for public comment, which incorporates many of the findings from the statewide listening tour. So stay tuned!
For those of you who are eager to make progress in your communities in the meantime, there are several Connect Illinois funding opportunities available to support your efforts:
- Connect Illinois Round 3: The state is accepting applications on a rolling basis from communities and internet service providers for grants of up to $10 million to deploy new or upgrade existing broadband networks that will meet at least one core goal: connect homes, businesses, and community anchor institutions in unserved or underserved areas; advance social and economic opportunity or solve a specific problem; or foster digital access and equity in urban locations. The next application deadline is October 2. Complete NOFO information is available here.
- Digital Equity Capacity Kickstarter (DECK) Grant Program: Communities and organizations can apply for project-specific grants averaging between $30,000 to $50,000 to achieve certain digital equity outcomes – such as local outreach and engagement, expanded digital navigator capacity, expanded public access, or feasibility studies to better understand needs and opportunities. This new initiative is designed to help equip Illinoisans with the skills and tools they’ll need to take full advantage of the benefits of high-speed internet service as it’s deployed throughout the state. NOFO information is available here.
- Future Broadband & Digital Equity Programming:
- Illinois Broadband Lab Summer Series | Weekly webinars on how to apply for and manage an Illinois Office of Broadband grant & general broadband and digital equity education. Register and view many past webinars here.
- Broadband READY & Accelerate Illinois: Broadband Breakthrough | Each of Illinois’ 10 economic regions has a READY digital equity team aimed at increasing digital equity through local and regional approaches—consider connecting this fall as the program grows! Additionally, this fall we’ll see another cohort of the Broadband Breakthrough program, a 16-week program that offers community broadband planning support for rural communities with significant economic reliance on agriculture. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with questions or to express interest.
We hope you will stay engaged with us over the months ahead as we set the course for Illinois’ broadband future!