Tag: "illinois"

Posted September 15, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

When school shut down past spring, Unit 4 schools in Champaign, Illinois scrambled to get students connected like everyone else. The district handed out Chromebooks and teachers went to work transitioning to online instruction so the school year could continue. But the district noticed that a large percentage of its students weren't logging on and the bulk of them came from Shadowwood mobile home park, where although fiber ran up and down every street in the neighborhood only one family subscribed to wireline Internet access. So Mark Toalson, the city’s IT Director, began making calls, and by the end of the summer a coalition came together to build Shadowwood’s students a free fixed wireless network which went online in August.

Fiber Just a Few Feet Away

The mobile home park sits on the north side of the town of 90,000, and is largely populated by Hispanic residents. Roughly 250 students who attend the Unit 4 school district live there, and according to Toalson not a single one had Internet access beyond personal mobile phones before they began last spring. In late May Mayor Deborah Feinen asked the city manager what could be done, and Toalson was asked to take on the project. 

Local circumstances make the Shadowwood Mobile Home Park a perfect case study in how efforts to bridge the digital divide need to tackle every facet of broadband gap to be successful. A $29 million grant in 2010 to bring Fiber-to-the-Home to the Urbana-Champaign-Savoy area meant that neighborhood had the infrastructure, but almost no one could afford the last-mile connection because of the high upfront costs. “We have fiber up and down every street in this trailer park, but they simply can’t afford to hook up to it,” city of Champaign Director of Information Technology Mark Toalson remarked in an interview. i3 Broadband, which owns and operates the infrastructure, normally costs $56/month (both in Shadowwood and without) and has been offering a $30 discount during the pandemic. It's a generous move, but moot for families who can’t pay to connect to the infrastructure sitting just below the street, a handful of steps away. So most of Shadowwood’s...

Read more
Posted August 27, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

A year ago we wrote about Illinois’ $420 million commitment to broadband expansion, and now the first round of grant winners has been released. Together they total $50 million in state funds matched by $65 million in additional money for 28 projects by 18 different Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that will, ultimately, connect 26,000 homes, farms, community institutions, and businesses in the state. It represents the first milestone in what is a significant commitment to closing Illinois' broadband gap.

Lots of Winners, Some Caveats

The Broadband Grant Program offers applicants up to $5 million in funding for projects with the stipulation that they match it with an equal or greater amount of other, nonstate funds. First-round winners consist of both middle- and last-mile builds touching at least 27 counties throughout the state. For example, Cook County received a little under $2 million to expand its Chicago Southland Fiber Network (CSFN). CSFN provides backhaul services to many, including the Illinois Century Network — which serves over 3,400 public K-12 schools, universities, and libraries. Their application committed to focusing “on fiber paths that will provide distribution and host last mile service platforms addressing those communities with the greatest need, municipalities with no fiber assets . . and key regional education campus facilities.” 

In total, providers representing local control and democratic decision-making did well. The Illinois Electric Cooperative got a little under $3.5 million to build out symmetrical 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) last-mile connections to 746 unserved households and 95 businesses, farms, and community anchor institutions in Calhoun County. Currently, its telecommunications division accounts for a relatively small but growing proportion of the services it provides to its more than 14,000 members across the state. JoCarrol Energy Cooperative, founded in 1939, also received $6 million to complete...

Read more
Posted April 23, 2020 by christopher

Last week, Frontier Communications told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that there are 17,000 census blocks in which it is now offering 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. This means well over 400,000 Americans now live in areas no longer eligible for the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a $20.4 billion program to expand rural broadband. The first phase will auction off up to $16 billion in subsidies later this year.

In the filing, the company also identified census blocks where it believes other providers will deploy broadband access through state-funded programs, making those locations ineligible for the federal funds as well.

Frontier is Flailing

Frontier recently declared bankruptcy, following a history of increasingly unsustainable acquisitions. It also just missed its milestone for the Connect America Fund, which required the company to deploy obsolete 10/1 Mbps service to 80 percent of the funded locations by the end of 2019 in return for more than $1.5 billion in subsidies. Some 774,000 locations should have at least 10/1 Mbps service by the end of 2020 from a company Consumer Reports repeatedly finds to be one of the worst Internet Service Providers in the nation.

Frontier is so bad that it went through repeated outages of 911 in Wisconsin, dealt with state investigation after state investigation (including but in no way limited to Minnesota, Ohio...

Read more
Posted February 18, 2020 by lgonzalez

Minnesota's Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program provides funding for deployment of broadband networks in rural regions of the state. The program, which started in 2014, has helped extend necessary high-quality Internet access infrastructure to dozens of communities. Without this week's guest, Matt Schmit, the program would never have become a reality.

Matt and Christopher knew each other long before the program was even an idea — when they were in grad school together — and you can tell they’re friends with a lot to reminisce about. Matt, who is now working on broadband in Illinois, was one of the State Senators who drove the conversation that moved the needle on rural broadband and who led the development of the state program that has accomplished so much in Minnesota. He and Christopher talk about the process and what it was like to go from recognizing the need to creating a program that is making change.

Because of his ability to get results in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Matt is now working in Illinois, where billions of state dollars have been earmarked for infrastructure, which includes broadband deployment. Matt is now Deputy Director at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, where he will work to determine the best way forward in deploying broadband as critical infrastructure. He and Christopher talk about some of the challenges he expects to face, what it’s like working in Illinois as compared to his work in Minnesota, and his hopes for the new state broadband program.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please ...

Read more
Posted August 26, 2019 by lgonzalez

In June, Governor JB Pritzker signed the Rebuild Illinois capital plan, a $45 billion effort that will repair and improve all manner of infrastructure in the state. Within the plan, state leaders intend to dedicate $420 million to upgrade and expand broadband infrastructure. Such a significant investment can make a real difference in the state, as long as decision makers adopt smart policies and allow local communities to receive funding for broadband projects.

Gas Tax for Gigabits

An increase in the state’s motor fuel tax will fund most of the broadband initiative. The increase in gas prices at the pump, which took effect on July 1, jumped from 19 to 38 cents. Similarly, a special fuels tax on diesel, liquefied natural gas, and propane increased from 2.5 cents to 5 cents. State analysts anticipate the increase will garner an additional $1.24 billion to state coffers in 2020.

The Rebuild Plan also grants state bonding authority for infrastructure projects and Cook County municipalities are permitted to raise their gas taxes by an additional three cents per gallon. There are also title and registration fees that will contribute to the fund.

As part of the plan, Illinois created the Connect Illinois initiative, which is part of the Illinois Department of Commerce. One of the goals of the initiative's Broadband Office is to provide all K-12 students with high-speed Internet access at no charge. As part of the Rebuild Illinois plan, $20 million will be used to update and expand the Illinois Century Network, which serves K-12 schools, colleges and universities, public libraries, and Internet access providers.

seal-illinois.pngConnect Illinois and the initiative’s Broadband Office will administer the grants made possible by the fuel tax increase. The office will also work to determine federal grants that are available and how best to access them to advance the state's goals.

Connectivity Council

In mid-August, Pritzker...

Read more
Posted July 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

When utilities, including broadband providers, need to cross railroad rights-of-way to serve customers, some railroad operators have been known to press their advantage. Several states have addressed utility complaints by establishing standardized rates and setting up processes to create a more reasonable and predictable system. Eliminating this obstacle to deployment is another step in bringing broadband to the communities that need it the most.

Party Concerns

Often railroads obtained title to real property during 19th century acquisitions as the infrastructure was being built. They want to preserve as much of their authority and title rights as possible and to ensure that they can receive the maximum value for their interest in the land.

For utilities, cost of deployment is a primary concern. When railroads demand unreasonable fees at crossings or drag out negotiations as a delay tactic, they also impinge on a utility’s ability to meet operational deadlines. Safety and engineering integrity can be negatively impacted by difficult negotiations, unreasonable demands, or exorbitant costs.

Different States, Different Stories

Few states have addressed the problem with statutes establishing standard utility fees for railroad right-of-way crossings. David L. Thomas, Managing Member of the strategic utility planning firm Eagle 1 Resources (E1R) has worked with telecommunications companies and other utilities to negotiate railroad crossing arrangements. He's seen that standard crossing fees set down in statute benefit deployment by ending delay and reducing costs and would like to see the trend pass to every state.

seal-wisconsin.png In South Dakota and Iowa, the fee had been established at $750. Wisconsin allows railroads to charge $500 [PDF see page 12] and state law in Illinois, where railroads have a strong presence in metro areas,...

Read more
Posted April 30, 2019 by lgonzalez

 

As part of our series of interviews conducted during the 2019 Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas, earlier in April, we’re sharing Christopher’s interview with Angela Imming. Angela is the Director of Technology and Innovation for the city of Highland, Illinois, home to Highland Communication Services (HCS).

HCS has been serving the community for almost 10 years now, and the city has had the opportunity to experience both victory and challenge. In this interview, Angela describes both. She talks about how, after losing some of the community thrill that often accompanies a relatively young project, HCS has reached out to their subscribers. In gathering community input, Angela and her team have been able to enhance the network’s success and reinvigorate local pride in the fiber optic network. 

Angela and Christopher also discuss how HCS is using new tools, such as targeted social media campaigns, to increase take rates and attract people to the town of Highland. By combining business acumen and the community-centered approach, HCS is achieving the goals they’ve redefined for themselves and living up to the city’s tradition of innovation.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 25 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the ...

Read more
Posted December 28, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

After finishing its first phase of broadband build out covering businesses and industrial parks, Rock Falls, Illinois, will begin focusing on residential customers in early 2019. While residents living close to business areas will have early access to the gigabit fiber network, the city of 9,000 will use the fiberhood approach to reach its remaining residential areas.

Growing a Gigabit City

The plan to invest in citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) began taking shape when Rock Falls residents became increasingly frustrated with the incumbent cable provider Comcast. Mayor Bill Wescott called for support for the project during his 2017 State of the City address, saying “The time is now to advance Internet in Rock Falls.” Later in April, the City Council approved the use of a $5.3 million general obligation bond issuance to fund the first phase of the build out, and an overall cap of $13 million for the duration of the project. The estimated cost of the project ended up being significantly reduced because the Rock Falls Electric Department (RFED) had already installed extra fiber-optic cable to connect substations as early as 2004.

By using GO bonds to finance their infrastructure deployment, Rock Falls departs from the typical funding approach. Most municipalities issue revenue bonds or employ interdepartmental loans and money they've saved from avoided costs when ending expensive leased lines to telecommunications companies. In recent years, other methods of funding fiber optic build outs have become increasingly popular as broadband infrastructure has obtained utility status in local communities.

logo-rock-falls-FiberNet.png Nine local businesses are already using FiberNet, which offers gigabit connectivity, a huge upgrade from the 10 - 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) download previously...

Read more
Posted April 11, 2018 by lgonzalez

Last fall, the City Council in Aurora, Illinois, approved a grant to OnLight Aurora to help fund the publicly owned network expansion to more commercial facilities along South River Street. This year, community leaders plan to move north and bring fiber optic infrastructure to RiverEdge Park along the Fox River as they turn the location into a “smart park.”

RiverEdge Park hosts festivals and other events, including summer concerts at it’s pavilion. Public officials want to take advantage of the community’s publicly owned broadband infrastructure for better security and to control parking. The city’s CIO Michael Pegues says that with better parking monitor and control, the city will be able to provide quicker emergency response and more efficient energy use. OnLight Aurora at RiverEdge Park may also generate revenue with kiosks for advertising.

Pegues and other city officials want to continue to grow Aurora’s increasing reputation as a tech-savvy community and to possibly expand the network to serve the nearby communities of Naperville and North Aurora.

“Smart” Attraction

Community leaders, including Pegues and Mayor Richard Irvin, want to cultivate Aurora’s growing reputation as a “smart city.” They’ve already leveraged OnLight Aurora to attract high-tech jobs, such as luring wireless communications company Scientel Solutions from Lombard. Scientel leadership described OnLight Aurora as “a big attraction.” The company will build its new headquarters near CyrusOne, a data center that connects to the fiber network.

The addition of a “smart park” is another creative way to use the publicly owned infrastructure in ways that serve lifestyles of people in the community. Aurora hopes to soon be named a “smart city” by the D.C. Smart Cities Coalition. The Coalition's video describes what characteristics "smart cities" share:

 

Evolution Of A Necessity...

Read more
Posted January 31, 2018 by lgonzalez

I3 Broadband, the private sector partner working with Champaign-Urbana to deliver high-quality connectivity, continues to expand throughout the region and announced that it will aim to offer services to 3,000 more premises during 2018.

One Step At A Time

The company has mapped out the community into neighborhoods and decides order of deployment on several factors, including proximity to areas already being served and level of interest. Residents can indicate their interest online at the company’s website or request the company send them a form to fill out and mail back. I3 will consider bringing the network to a neighborhood when 30 - 45 percent of households express interest in signing up for the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service.

I3 serves premises in 24 neighborhoods in Champaign-Urbana, which includes neighborhoods that UC2B built out with fiber and areas where iTV-3 deployed fiber.

When the communities of Champaign and Urbana began looking for a partner to offer services via the publicly owned UC2B network, they first chose iTV-3 because the ISP was a local company with a community minded approach. In 2014, they began working with iTV-3, but within two years, iTV-3 decided to sell its assets to Countrywide Broadband. 

The UC2B leadership chose iTV-3 in part because the company had expressed a commitment to keep expanding the network to other neighborhoods. The sale raised concerns because Countrywide was a larger entity taking over a local interested provider, but the community hoped that Countrywide would be better able to expand the infrastructure because it held considerable assets. Champaign-Urbana chose not to exercise the right of first refusal to purchase fiber assets that had been deployed by iTV-3, but they retained ownership of original UC2B assets. Countrywide began serving customers under its subsidiary i3.

As part of their five-year plan to build out the network, i3 announced in the spring of 2017 that they aimed...

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to illinois