State Senator Andy Manar’s office announced last week that a second round of Connect Illinois broadband grants were open in the state. Manar, who serves as a chief budget negotiator for the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus and chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, played an instrumental role in this program’s inclusion in the state’s budget. Manar says that the Connect Illinois grant is a sign of what happens when both sides of the aisle work together for real solutions to problems: “This was a focus of Rebuild Illinois infrastructure, legislation which was a bipartisan effort back in May of 2019, and I think that underscores first of all what can happen when Democrats and Republicans put their partisan differences aside and work together. A big piece of that legislation was a $420 million state investment in expansion of broadband in all parts of Illinois. This is not just a rural area even though it disproportionately impacts rural areas. There’s also urban neighborhoods that have as much of an issue as folks like us do in rural areas.”
Manar says that the grant is a part of a public-private partnership to help get Illinois connected: “That $420 million of state investment leverages millions, tens of millions of dollars, of private investments from internet, telecom, and tech companies, so this is very much a private public partnership. The key to this though is having a local entity, oftentimes a small business or a regional internet provider for example, apply for the grant.”
The second round of Connect Illinois grants will allow for up to $5 million per project and calls for a matching component, which requires companies to dedicate funding that will accelerate the delivery of broadband investments. Manar says it sets the state apart by creating a program that no other state has to get everyone connected. Manar says it’s very similar to when rural electricity was ran during the early portion of the 20th Century: “We’ve seen examples of this where rural electric cooperatives are deploying broadband. For example, in Calhoun County, that’s a good example of how a trusted rural electric service can work with local homeowners and property owners to identify the deed, and of course you have to have right of way of course to put fiber or whatever the line is underground. You just can’t go put it on people’s property. That takes trusted sources. We can look to what happened years ago with rural electrification, and I think we can help mirror that effort now with broadband, because it is so important. We’ve seen how important this is though this pandemic, and the pandemic has exposed our challenges very much so in rural Illinois.”
Applications for the program will be open through February. Manar says that downstate investment and reinvestment will also help bring jobs to rural America along with the new technology being offered through connectivity. The application to the Program can be found on the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s website.