With $400 million available for broadband deployment grants targeting areas of greatest need, Connect Illinois is an equity-driven infrastructure program, first and foremost. Challenges tied to population sparsity, geography, or low take rate continue to stand as barriers to broadband ubiquity. In particular, Connect Illinois will seek to address disparities in broadband access and adoption in rural regions and black and brown communities across the state. Understandably, private investment has doubled down on relatively profitable service territories – growing the broadband access gap as a result. Connect Illinois funding will address this market failure and recalibrate the business case for new deployments, connecting communities and individual consumers with scalable service throughout the state.
The magnitude of the Connect Illinois investment is critical to its success: First, it signals – to the public, providers, and policymakers alike – the significance and scale of the broadband access challenge and the Connect Illinois calling. Second, it allows for phased deployment and planning – for both grant applicants and grant administrators. Third, it creates leverage to push private investment and federal funding toward scalable technology that meets the broadband needs of today – and tomorrow.
The Connect Illinois program will focus on expanding broadband connectivity by promoting the following project criteria:
- Competitive matching grants will be scored based upon merit and require a certain non-state match, transforming the Connect Illinois investment into a potential total public-private investment of $1 billion or more in state and non-state sources, whether federal, local, or private funds.
- Applicant inclusive approach will inspire a wide array of proposals, including but not limited to those from providers, cooperatives, municipalities, tribal entities, nonprofits, and public-private partnerships.
- Technology neutral approach will enable a diverse set of providers and related technology to qualify for funding, including various wireline and wireless approaches.
- Service scalable to at least 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds will allow for future upgrades and ensure long-term return on the historic Connect Illinois investment.
- Open access preference will acknowledge that collaboration over infrastructure promotes better service for consumers and expanded network coverage for providers, producing a triple win by stretching Connect Illinois to its last-mile limits.
- Community-driven approach will promote direct engagement among providers, local communities, and individual stakeholders to collaborate and build toward a shared community technology vision.
- Balanced challenge processes will empower providers, communities, consumers, and individual stakeholders alike to challenge the accuracy of published broadband service levels that inform state broadband mapping and broadband program eligibility.
- Affordability incentives will ensure that the Connect Illinois program takes a comprehensive approach to promoting broadband access through broadband equity, addressing one critical barrier to adoption: a consumer's cost to connect.
- Synergy with state five-year economic plan will provide a strategic frame for aligning Connect Illinois investment with broader economic goals and opportunities.
- Emphasis on applications will showcase cutting-edge broadband-driven innovations in areas such as agriculture, economic development, education, and telehealth.