Illinois Connected Communities program receives $300,000 investment to support community-driven broadband plans

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information provided by the Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity

CHICAGO, Ill. (July 14, 2020) – Last week the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Office of Broadband announced the first recipients of the Illinois Connected Communities grant program, created to assist underserved areas of the state with building broadband capacity. Through cross-sector collaboration, this new program directs $150,000 in state-funded small grants for 12 community and local government partners to lead the development of strategic plans to ensure access, adoption, and utilization of high-speed broadband in their communities. The state grants will be paired with $150,000 in philanthropic matching funds.

These grants will help lay the groundwork for individual communities to play a part in Governor Pritzker’s statewide high-speed internet expansion, Connect Illinois, a $420 million program to bring basic access to all communities by 2024.

“For too long, too many of our neighborhoods and towns and counties and communities have been left out of the digital revolution and, in an increasingly competitive global economy, we simply cannot afford to leave any Illinoisan behind when it comes to high speed connectivity,” said Governor JB Pritzker.

The first Illinois Connected Communities cohort includes four school districts, two community-based organizations, two local governments, two county-level organizations, and two economic development groups.

Illinois Connected Communities is a partnership among the Illinois Office of Broadband, the Evanston-based Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, and local philanthropy. The program is designed to engage a first-year cohort of communities through best practice curriculum, expert consultation, and a state grant of up to $15,000. The initial cohort includes the following organizations leading community-wide initiatives:

  • Brown County School District 1
  • City of Harvey
  • Housing Authority of Champaign County
  • Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois
  • Mattoon School District 2
  • McKinley Park Development Council
  • Mercer County Better Together
  • Neighborhood Network Alliance
  • Palatine School District 15
  • Park Forest-Chicago Heights School District 163
  • Region 1 Planning Council (Winnebago County and City of Rockford)
  • Village of Flanagan

Local philanthropic contributions raised to date will support more than 50 hours of free expert consultation and best-practice curriculum for each of the twelve Illinois Connected Communities. Guidance will include assisting communities to define their technology goals; measuring current levels of broadband access, adoption, and use; and seeking technical assistance and other funds to meet community needs.

By the end of the 12-month program, each Illinois Connected Community will have completed a community-driven, broadband strategic plan that articulates the community’s broadband vision and identifies an action plan for progress toward improved broadband access in the areas of community and economic development, education, civic engagement, healthcare, agriculture, and more.

“The City of Harvey applied because digital equity and inclusion is a priority that we share with Governor Pritzker,” said Harvey Mayor Christopher Clark. “We believe broadband access is just as important as utilities like water, gas, and electricity. Harvey has been on the wrong side of the digital divide. This grant gives us the opportunity—and the strategy—to right that wrong. We are excited to partner with DCEO and the Benton Institute’s experts to devise a community-led strategy for our city.”

The Notice of Funding Opportunity was announced with Governor Pritzker during the launch of the Office of Broadband’s Developing Broadband Leadership webinar series on May 10. Applications were accepted through June 16, considered on a competitive basis, and scored by a merit review team comprised of technical experts and community and economic development professionals.

The implementation of broadband strategic plans builds on efforts by the Pritzker administration to increase broadband capacity and is critical for the economic growth of Illinois communities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, Governor Pritzker launched a $50 million investment in broadband infrastructure, which pairs $65 million in non-state matching to deliver high-speed reliable access to more than 26,000 homes, farms, and businesses. This initial investment is part of the Governor’s 4-year plan, Connect Illinois, to bring universal access to communities across Illinois. Connect Illinois contemplates a second round of grants later this year.