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Illinois Governor Pritzker Launches Connect Illinois, a $420 Million Statement Broadband Expansion Effort

The following story was first published in STL News on August 16, 2019 

SpringfieldIL (STL.News) – With a historic $420 million investment in broadband infrastructure included in the Rebuild Illinois capital plan, Governor JB Pritzker launched a statewide strategic initiative to guide broadband expansion by naming 25 members to the Broadband Advisory Council.

“Rebuild Illinois will improve our infrastructure at a historic scale, and it lays the foundation for economic progress and educational success for the decades to come,” said Governor JB Pritzker.  “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.  Our Broadband Advisory Council will be guided by three areas of focus for Illinois’ success in the 21st century: education, telehealth and economic development.  By working together, we’re going to Connect Illinois.”

Connect Illinois will centralize state agency resources, collaborate with private-sector experts and bipartisan legislators from around Illinois and break down government silos to expand broadband access across the entire state.  Their work will be centered around three main outcomes: telehealth, education and economic development.

Telehealth: Increase access to telehealth across the state of Illinois, which will provide additional health care options to communities in rural Illinois and expand treatment opportunities in areas such as mental health and opioid addiction.

Education: Put the state on a path to increased broadband access for K-12 schools throughout Illinois to ensure students have the tools they need to succeed in the classroom.

Economic Development: Expand economic development and opportunity in urban and rural communities throughout Illinois.  This investment will support the growth of Illinois’ agriculture economy and information technology sector and will help to modernize transportation and support the development of entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Created through Public Act 100-833, the Broadband Advisory Council will create and present a statewide broadband strategic plan that identifies opportunities to serve all Illinoisans – with a focus on students, seniors, low-income households, rural communities and small businesses.

The council will also examine best practices in other states and explore ways to maximize federal funding on top of the historic state investments in Rebuild Illinois.  Passed and signed into law in June 2019, Rebuild Illinois dedicates $400 million to partnering with internet service providers to build 21st century infrastructure connecting communities across the state to high-speed internet.  It also invests $20 million in the Illinois Century Network, an existing broadband network serving K-12 schools, higher education, public libraries, museums, state and local governments and the health care community.

By December 31, 2019, the council will deliver a report to the governor and General Assembly with recommendations for the statewide broadband expansion.

“The Department of Innovation & Technology (DoIT) is pleased to be part of a program that brings digital equity to students across Illinois,” said Illinois CIO and DoIT Acting Secretary Ron Guerrier.  “The expanded broadband program will provide high-speed, secure Internet access at no cost to Illinois K-12 public schools.  Digital learning will soon be available to all in our state, regardless of geography or economics.”

“This $420 million investment in broadband is the fulfillment of one of my first meetings with Governor Pritzker regarding rural development,” said John Sullivan, Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.  “These capital dollars will make enormous improvements in internet service to rural areas of the state—helping farmers, small business owners and individual homeowners.”

“Access to high-speed, reliable internet is an integral part of supporting our existing business community, bringing new companies to the state, and providing workers access to education and employment opportunities,” said Erin Guthrie, Acting Director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.  “Thanks to Governor Pritzker’s Rebuild Illinois program, DCEO has $400 million to expand broadband to every corner of the state and bring economic development to all Illinois communities.”

“For so many rural and underserved areas, telehealth means access to comprehensive healthcare, which can be as important as solid and well-maintained roads,” said Theresa Eagleson, director of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.  “For those facing behavioral health challenges, telehealth can be especially vital.  As the largest provider of healthcare insurance in Illinois, we look forward to actively advancing the mission of this council so that all our members can be better served.”

“In this day and age, when internet is critical to enhancing connectedness and relationship building for seniors with their support networks, physicians and community, the Department on Aging is looking forward to discussing barriers and ways to assist our state’s seniors gain access to the internet,” said Department on Aging Director Paula A. Basta.  “Expanding broadband opportunities will enhance independence and quality of life for Illinois seniors and we are excited to partner with our fellow state agencies and stakeholders to accomplish that goal.”

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