Illinois is releasing the first $50 million worth of grants aimed at expanding broadband internet access to rural areas and urban segments without service.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker made the announcement Wednesday. The total $420 million in grants are part of a four-year effort to work with providers to give more residents what the governor said wasn’t the ability to check Facebook, but rather connectivity for businesses, schools and medical centers.
“This is about a small business owner having the tools she needs to reach new customers,” he said. “This is about an elderly couple’s ability to get access to medical experts anywhere in the nation even if they live in a rural community. This is about giving children the ability to research their homework assignments online. In short, this is about the right of all our communities to access health care, education, and economic opportunity.”
The funds come from the Rebuild Illinois $45 billion infrastructure plan, which doubled the state’s gas tax and raised dozens of fees.
“Fast, reliable internet isn’t a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity,” state Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, said in a statement. “Broadband access is critical for everyone, from students to small business owners, and it’s vital that we continue to invest in its availability in all corners of our state."
Grant responses for the initial round of funding can be submitted through April 3. Each product can get up to $5 million.
“I am honored to represent rural and downstate Illinois as a member of the Broadband Advisory Council,” state Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, said. “Funding for new and improved infrastructure will give more residents access to high-speed Internet, provide better e-learning opportunities for schools, and boost telehealth programs in areas that do not have easy access to specialized medical facilities and doctors.”