Morgan County and the WLDS/WEAI has been battling with significant broadband and cellular connectivity issues for a number of years. Matt Schmit, the new director of the Illinois Office of Broadband in the state’s commerce department says that it’s a problem that’s not unique to just West Central Illinois. Schmit, who is a former state senator in his native Minnesota, says that he hopes to direct the $420 million diverted to the Connect Illinois project to fix some of the issues the rural parts of the state faces when it comes to connectivity.
Schmit says that discussions between municipalities, local providers, and providers from outside the region need to happen for proposals to receive grant funding for better infrastructure. He says the current discussions about the City of Jacksonville looking at proposal for a municipal broadband option is exactly what the grant funding would be looking for in their applications.
Schmit says that the Office of Broadband will also be technology-neutral in that it will be looking at both wireless and cellular as well as wired technology. He says that the grant funding hopes to be scale-able over time so that the technology is not obsolete within the next few years. Schmit says that all dollars that leave his office will be audited and held accountable for acceptable service.
Schmit will be giving a report to the General Assembly in January with the Broadband Advisory Council on the soon-to-be released first round of grant opportunities. The Connect Illinois project is expected to first work on anchor public institutions like hospitals, schools, and public libraries. The first portion of the funding is expected to be spent on repairing and updating the existing Illinois Century Network, according to the State Journal Register. The network serves various educational institutions around the state. The first round of grants are expected to be matching grants making available over $50 million to applicants from around the state.