Five working groups formed to discuss key issues and to identify various opportunities and barriers related to broadband infrastructure and utilization. The working groups included: access; economic development; education; infrastructure and technology; and telehealth.
Access. The working group on access explored barriers and opportunities for improved collaboration between broadband providers and private land owners and public facilities. Through careful communication and coordination, Connect Illinois deployments will seek to leverage shared stakeholder interests to improve access to public facilities and private assets, such as agricultural land, railroad crossings, and utility poles, wherever possible.
Economic development. The working group on economic development examined how to leverage the convergence of improved bandwidth, innovative applications, and useful metrics to promote and measure the impact of new broadband investment and related opportunities. It found that broadband is increasingly necessary for business attraction and growth in the economy of today – and tomorrow. For instance, broadband was found to reduce transaction costs and improve access to online resources, boosting sales and reducing input costs. In addition, multiple studies suggest that rural broadband is positively associated with: GDP growth; median household incomes; farm revenues; and non-farm rural business growth – with faster broadband having greater impact.
Residential broadband is also an important business attraction tool, providing quality of life for workers and local customers – and the capacity for telework, flex schedules, or home-based business start-ups that could grow to produce new jobs or future property tax base.
The state’s recently-released five-year economic plan highlights six primary sectors for driving growth: agriculture; energy; healthcare; information technology; manufacturing and transportation. This plan committed the Pritzker Administration to investing to grow these sectors while prioritizing fair and equitable growth, supporting small businesses, and strengthening the Illinois workforce. High quality broadband infrastructure, along with increased adoption and digital rates, is foundational to this strategy. With regard to the rural economy, companies with high transaction costs or high labor intensity – such as financial services, wholesale trade, health, or tourism – stand to benefit the most from better broadband.
Education. The working group on education considered the barriers and opportunities at the intersection of broadband and education. While the federal e-rate program and state investment in the Illinois Century Network have produced clear successes, continued progress is needed to ensure that all students have access to the level of broadband they need – both inside the classroom and out – for such uses as interactive and multimedia curriculum, flip schedules, and distance learning.
Infrastructure and technology. The working group on infrastructure and technology focused on identifying elements of a successful broadband grant program, such as the need for mapping, matching funds, clear funding criteria, and a balanced challenge process to ensure accurate mapping and fair grant administration.
Telehealth. The working group on telehealth identified barriers and opportunities related to expanded health care service and technology enabled by broadband connectivity, including the need for clear regulation of and reimbursement for telehealth services, related equipment for telehealth services and facilities, and the bandwidth necessary for real-time interaction between patient and heath care professional.