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Three southern Illinois counties to benefit from broadband expansion grants

By Peter Hancock
Capitol News Illinois
updated: 6/30/2020 9:20 AM

SPRINGFIELD -- Underserved areas in Saline, Williamson and Johnson counties will get part of the $50 million being distributed across Illinois to expand broadband internet, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday.

The $50 million is part of "Connect Illinois," a program included in the state's "Rebuild Illinois" capital improvements program. The state funds are being matched with more than $65 million in nonstate funds for a total investment of over $115 million.

"Connect Illinois is about the right of all our communities to access health care, education and economic opportunity -- because in the 21st century, all those rights are tied to digital connectivity," Pritzker said.

"The unacceptable consequences of disparities in broadband access were clear before the COVID-19 pandemic -- and over the last few months, we've seen what it means when a small business that had to close its doors has no online shop, when an elderly couple has no safe way to get medical advice at a distance, and when a child (cannot) access homework assignments online."

Connect Illinois calls for spending $420 million statewide for broadband expansion through 2024, including $20 million for the Illinois Century Network, a high-speed broadband network that serves K-12 and higher education institutions.

The first round of grants that were announced Wednesday were awarded to 18 internet service providers, rural cooperatives, nonprofits and local governments.

Locally, Shawnee Communications is receiving nearly $7 million for projects in Johnson, Williamson and Saline counties. They are:

• $1,183,982, to build a 1 gigabit-capable network to provide fiber services to Mitchellsville and Rudement in Saline County. This is designed to serve about 253 unserved households, 63 unserved businesses, 74 underserved households and five underserved businesses.

• $3,525,068, to build a 1 gigabit-capable network to provide fiber services to Goreville, Tunnel Hill and Southern townships in Williamson and Johnson counties. This will serve approximately 881 unserved households, 104 unserved businesses, 642 underserved households and eight underserved businesses.

• $2,264,157, to build a 1 gigabit-capable network to provide fiber services to the communities of Goreville, Elvira, Vienna and Cache townships in Johnson County, including the communities of Vienna, West Vienna, Buncombe and Wartrace. It includes 557 unserved households, 111 unserved businesses, 230 underserved households and 54 underserved businesses.

According to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which administers the program, grant applications were evaluated on factors such as broadband impact, matching funds, community support, project readiness and project sustainability.

DCEO said it expects to issue another round of Connect Illinois grants later this year.