So many aspects of our lives are connected to the internet today. That makes an announcement this week very welcome news: Rural areas of Effingham County are among 28 projects in line for broadband expansion.
The $50 million in state grants will be matched by $65 million in non-state funding for a total of $115 million, with plans to expand access for more than 26,000 homes, businesses, farms and community institutions across Illinois, according to a press release from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office.
Illinois Fiber Connect will receive a $4.9 million grant that will connect 207 households, businesses, farms and community anchor institutions in Beecher City and 637 households, businesses, farms and community anchor institutions in the area south of Effingham.
The project will build a fiber-to-the-premises network that provides advanced, high-speed broadband services to households, businesses and farms, improving access to critical school e-learning applications while also providing residents the opportunity to work from home.
Mediacom is getting $249,424 for a project in Edgewood that will connect 234 households, 11 businesses and three community anchor institutions.
“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,” Pritzker said in the press release. “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.”
We agree with the governor that the pandemic has underscored a lot of disparities. But few people around here needed a national crisis to know that rural access to high-speed internet should have been a priority long ago. It regularly ranks high on the list of needs on community surveys.
While we wish state officials and others had acted on this long ago, we are glad to see that this is finally being addressed. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other areas in our community that we hope soon get similar attention regarding access to broadband.