Whiteside County working on offering affordable broadband internet access

Whiteside County is taking the first step in providing the entire county with robust, reliable, and affordable fiber broadband internet access.

It’s joining the Village of Elsah, Jackson County, Knox County, Mercer County and the city of Springfield in the inaugural effort of the Accelerate Illinois Broadband Infrastructure Planning Program.

Accelerate Illinoisa collaboration among the Illinois Office of Broadband, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, and University of Illinois Extension — offers local governments an intensive 14-week community engagement and planning program with expert support provided by the Benton Institute, according to a Friday release. The collaboration opportunity is made possible through the financial support of Heartland Forward and its Connecting the Heartland Initiative.

These communities will work until mid-May getting prepared for historic broadband infrastructure funding made available through Connect Illinois and federal broadband programs — notably through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — as well as learning about local finance tools.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Office of Broadband announced Feb. 24 the six communities selected to participate in the first cohort of the Accelerate Illinois Broadband Infrastructure Planning Program. Hosted in collaboration with Heartland Forward and the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, the six communities are the Springfield, Jackson County, Knox County, Mercer County, Whiteside County, and the Village of Elsah.

Free expert help offered

The training is designed to guide communities through the process of establishing and implementing a full-scale broadband connectivity vision. With more than 30 hours of no-cost, expert counsel provided by the Benton Institute, the program provides structured education and engagement for communities to identify broadband goals, gather information and analyze opportunities, understand available funding options, and target capital dollars to support implementation, the release said.

“Robust, reliable internet connectivity for every resident, business and organization in the county has been a challenge we’ve wrestled with for some time,” James Duffy, Whiteside County Board Chair, said in the release. “The pandemic really brought this challenge to the forefront as remote work, education and telemedicine became necessities.

“It is obvious that many residents, businesses and organizations in Whiteside County do not have quality internet access,” he said. “The number underserved and unserved locations is unacceptable, and the Connect Illinois and federal broadband programs will be our chance to rectify this.”

Joel Horn, Whiteside County Administrator, said, “Bringing fiber broadband internet access to the county will be a massive project for the county – engaging with the right partners, installing hundreds of miles of fiber, costing millions of dollars, and spanning several years. We want to get this right, and the initial planning process going on now is a crucial step. We will be communicating progress and next steps as warranted, and will be engaging the community as we move forward.”

Kim Ewoldsen, Morrison resident and ConnectWhiteside.org committee member, commented, “My family owns an agricultural business, I know about the broadband challenges and frustrations facing many of us in Whiteside County, and this a very exciting project. From an economic and quality of life basis, this will be a game changer for Whiteside County.”

Residents encouraged to take survey

ConnectWhiteside.org, the 17-person committee working on the planning process for Whiteside County, will be releasing a user survey, available at connectwhiteside.org/survey. A Spanish language version of the online survey can be accessed at conecterwhiteside.org/encuesta, and paper version will be available.

A paper version of the survey in both English and Spanish will also be available for those with no internet or poor internet service and will be available at several locations around the county. The survey is scheduled to end on Friday, April 29, 2022.

information can be found at connectwhiteside.org, or by contacting Joel Horn, Whiteside County Administrator, at WCAdmin@whiteside.org, or 200 E Knox St., Morrison, IL 61270, or 815-772-5100.

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