Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced the inaugural cohort of the state’s Accelerate Illinois Broadband Infrastructure Planning Program.

Gov. Pritzker, alongside the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Office of Broadband, announced the six communities selected for the program – the City of Springfield, Jackson County, Knox County, Mercer County, Whiteside County, and the Village of Elsah.

“Broadband infrastructure is only as useful as it is accessible to the people who need it – so my administration is partnering with local jurisdictions to develop broadband plans responsive to their unique local needs,” said Gov. Pritzker. “Thanks to our Connect Illinois initiative and Federal funding on the way from President Biden’s infrastructure plan, there’s never been more potential to reach our goal of closing the digital divide here in Illinois.”

The Accelerate Illinois Broadband Infrastructure Planning Program is a 14-week intensive training program intended to help community leaders develop broadband plans responsive to their local needs, as well as position them to effectively leverage newly available state and Federal broadband infrastructure funding.

“All residents should have the same opportunity to tap into the critical resources that access to high-speed internet service providers,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. “As we continue our efforts to expand digital equity, initiatives like Accelerate Illinois are crucial. I look forward to seeing the progress these communities make through this program.”

The first part of the program is having participants launch community surveys to gather information from local residents, businesses, and community stakeholders about their current use of broadband and satisfaction with existing services. Participants will use both paper and online surveys to reach as many community members as possible. Online surveys will also include a link to an internet speed test to show current broadband speeds and provide visual evidence of whether existing providers need to upgrade services or new providers should come in to meet the state’s broadband goals.

New broadband funding is coming from both the $1 trillion Federal bipartisan infrastructure bill, the American Rescue Plan Act, and Gov. Pritzker’s bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital plan, which dedicated $420 million to broadband expansion.

“The Accelerate Illinois program is crucial to ensuring communities have a plan and are equipped with the tools they need to effectively utilize historic funding for broadband infrastructure expansion and improvement,” said Sylvia I. Garcia, acting director of DCEO. “Under Gov. Pritzker’s leadership, our state is working to close the digital divide and get all Illinoisans connected to high-speed internet access, this program meets communities where they are and builds capacity that is critical to helping close the gap.”

The program is a partnership between the Illinois Office of Broadband, the Illinois-based Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, and the University of Illinois Extension, and uses funding from Heartland Forward.

“Through Heartland Forward’s Connecting the Heartland initiative, we are working to ensure all Illinoisans have access to the high-speed internet service necessary to live, work and learn at home. Communities across the state are poised to receive historic Federal funding to make that goal a reality. But many – especially rural and under-resourced communities – lack the expertise and capacity to seize this opportunity,” said Angie Cooper, chief program officer of Heartland Forward. “That’s why the Accelerate Illinois program is so important, and we are thrilled to be able to support the communities that were selected to participate.”

“Our overriding goal is to create a comprehensive plan to expand access to broadband to close the digital divide in Springfield,” said Julia Frevert, Communications Director for the City of Springfield. “Through our previous research and data gathering, coupled with City assets, we believe our participation in the Accelerate Illinois program will help us formulate this plan and implementation strategy. Connection to high-speed internet is critical to the equitable economic good for our neighborhoods and families, and we look forward to furthering conversations with our residents and stakeholders to hear how we can best make that a reality.”

A second cohort of Accelerate Illinois communities will be announced this spring.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs