Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has boosted the broadband across the state. He announced on Wednesday the first round of $50 million in grants for rural broadband and expanded internet access across the state. The amount is more than doubled by matching grants to bring the total initial investment to $115 million.
Gov. Pritzker and other state leaders acknowledged the need for level playing field on the internet “has never been more urgent.” The social disparities in the state and the nation is magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic. The grants are the first of the $420 million Connect Illinois program that is launched for expanding broadband access statewide — a program that predates the pandemic’s arrival earlier this year.
The need for rural broadband expansion was made abundantly clear as businesses closed and were forced to move online. Pritzker said in a news conference at Olson Acres Farms in Geneseo, “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.”
He added, “The unacceptable consequences of disparities in broadband access were clear before the COVID-19 pandemic — and over the last few months, we’ve seen firsthand what it means when a small business that had to close its doors has no online shop, what it means when an elderly couple has no safe way to get medical advice at a distance, what it means when a child has no ability to access homework assignments online. This work has never been more urgent — the disadvantages that persist when our communities are left out of opportunity demand ambitious efforts to bring them to a close.”
Revitalizing small towns and rural areas is possible through internet access expansion. The expansion will level the playing field statewide in education. The expansion will also make telecommuting possible from anywhere that is crucial for minimizing the spread of coronavirus.