Gov. Pritzker Launches Connect Illinois, a $420 Million Statewide Broadband Expansion Under Rebuild Illinois
"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."
"When I chaired the Senate's Telecommunications and Information Technology Committee, I discovered just how difficult it's becoming for individuals to participate in our increasingly digitized economy without access to fast and reliable internet," said Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago). "We've made great strides toward making this critical service available in Illinois and I'm looking forward to seeing how this committee can continue to help expand access and opportunity to all parts of the state."
"This is good news for rural Illinois," said Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy). "This investment will increase internet access for rural communities and provide a boost to agriculture and downstate economic development."
"The Governor's Broadband Council is going to transform the Illinois information superhighway so that more Illinoisans can find the express lane to vital opportunities in employment, education and health care," said Rep. John Connor (D- Romeoville). "Working with the Governor and the other Council members, we will brighten Illinois' future with the light of fiber optics."
"The state's investment in building broadband infrastructure is helping to create a level playing field for small businesses, start-ups, entrepreneurs, farmers, schools and families in rural Illinois that will increase opportunities and help grow the Illinois economy," said Assistant House Minority Leader Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego). "Ensuring broadband access throughout urban and rural communities will make Illinois more competitive with neighboring states when it comes to attracting jobs for Illinois families."
Statute requires Gov. Pritzker to appoint seven leaders with deep knowledge of the telecommunications industry, particularly in serving rural and urban areas throughout the state. These appointees include:
• Karen Boswell, Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs at Frontier Communications Corporation
• Melia Carter, a Director of Government Affairs at Verizon
• Steve Hill, President, Satellite Broadcast and Communications Association
• Rick Holzmacher, Director of Government Affairs for the Illinois Rural Broadband Association
• Zak Horn, President, Metro Communications Company
• Christopher Nelson, Comcast's Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs for the Chicago region
• Deno Perdiou, AT&T's Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs for Illinois
The seven governor-appointed members will join the following 18 members that were designated in statute to round out the 25-member council:
• Deb Alfredson, Illinois Association of Housing Authorities
• David Antonacci, Illinois Board of Higher Education
• Paula Basta, Illinois Department on Aging
• Bill Bodine, Illinois Farm Bureau
• Nikki Budzinski, Office of Governor JB Pritzker
• Mike Chamberlain, Illinois Municipal League, Mayor of Belvidere
• John Connor (D), Illinois House of Representatives
• Bill Cunningham (D), Illinois Senate
• Theresa Eagleson, Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services
• Ryan Gruenenfelder, AARP
• Jeff Newell, Illinois Community College Board
• Susan Satter, Illinois Attorney General's Office
• Josh Shallenberger, Shelby Electric Coop
• Anne Slaughter, Illinois Library Association
• Lori Sorenson, Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology
• Jil Tracy (R), Illinois Senate
• Keith Wheeler (R), Illinois House of Representatives
• Jim Zolnierik, Illinois Commerce Commission