The seeds of the Illinois Broadband Lab were planted in October 2021, with the announcement of the interactive Connect Illinois Broadband Map. This mapping initiative helped to provide Illinois residents and communities with new data on broadband connectivity in their area, as well as an online speed test to identify gaps and tailor community broadband planning efforts. But it also highlighted a need for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Office of Broadband to build on its strategic collaborations to enhance its capacity. The Illinois Broadband Lab was formed to help store the static and interactive maps and complementary data sets, engage communities in broadband planning, and help guide the state’s historic $420 million Connect Illinois Broadband Infrastructure plan.
The Illinois Broadband Lab is a product of the Illinois Office of Broadband’s approach to digital equity and inclusion programing: comprehensive, complimentary, and collaborative. As a lean operation, the Illinois Office of Broadband knew that collaboration would be key: Work with the Illinois-based Benton Institute for Broadband & Society gave rise to the bi-weekly Illinois Broadband Connections newsletter, timely local planning and capacity building through the Illinois Connected Communities and Accelerate Illinois programs, and a mutual interest in broadband data, research, and publication. The University of Illinois System – and, in particular, its Extension Services and Illinois Innovation Network – extends the Office of Broadband’s reach through a robust catalog of curated online content, interactive webinars, and programmatic support. Bring this all together, in 2022 the Office and its collaborators launched the Illinois Broadband Lab.
The Illinois Broadband Lab is a collaboration among the University of Illinois System, the Illinois Innovation Network, the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity Office of Broadband, University of Illinois Extension, the Illinois Department of Innovation & Technology, and the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society to advance shared interests in broadband data and research, explore various aspects of the digital divide, and provide thoughtful analysis of the Connect Illinois capital investment and related programming
In November 2022, the Illinois Office of Broadband formalized its working relationship with the University of Illinois System through an intergovernmental agreement, creating the Illinois Broadband Lab, a five-year commitment to broadband and digital equity capacity and programming.
In November 2022, the Illinois Broadband Lab procured the services of a broadband management consulting firm to add necessary capacity to meeting federal BEAD and Digital Equity ACT program requirements.