In the summer 2023, the Illinois Broadband Lab collaboration completed an ambitious statewide listening tour. 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. Community, resident, and provider input from this tour, along with deep data analysis, drove Illinois’ BEAD Initial Proposal and draft State Digital Equity Plan. A summary of public comments received and related responses will be available on the Illinois Office of Broadband website soon. Illinois is accepting public comment on its draft State Digital Equity Plan through January 31, 2024.
This fall, the Illinois Office of Broadband launched the Digital Equity Capacity Kickstarter program, awarding 23 community grants. Additional funding is now available and applications can be submitted by December 22 and January 19. To support our current and future programming, the University expanded the Illinois Broadband Lab collaboration to grow capacity in mapping and data gathering; and community outreach and programming. The Lab also staffed a 10-member statewide digital navigator network! The Office of Broadband is also growing from a staff of two to a team of ten, with new hires in grants management, community engagement, compliance, and leadership.
In 2024, the Office of Broadband is poised to launch an inclusive BEAD Mapping Challenge process.
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 has been 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. Connect Illinois Round 3 deadline is January 1, 2024.
- 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.
- Broadband & Digital Equity Programming:
- Illinois Broadband Lab Summer Series | Weekly webinars from Summer 2023 how to apply for and manage an Illinois Office of Broadband grant & general broadband and digital equity education.
- 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 email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org 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!