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Expert Opinion: Building the Gigabit State in Southern Illinois

CARBONDALE, Illinois, June 2, 2011 – Boiled down to its bare essentials, a major research university like Southern Illinois University here needs three things to prosper: good students, great faculty, and world-class internet bandwidth.

The only major research university in the southern half of Illinois, SIU has the first two out of three. But according to John Koropchak, a professor of chemistry and Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Dean at the university, the availability of bandwidth for SIU maxes out at 380 Megabits per second (Mbps).

Guidelines by the National Science Foundation call for bandwidth availability to be 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) to 2.5 Gbps. That’s up to seven times the bandwidth currently available.

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CARBONDALE, Illinois, June 2, 2011 – Boiled down to its bare essentials, a major research university like Southern Illinois University here needs three things to prosper: good students, great faculty, and world-class internet bandwidth.

The only major research university in the southern half of Illinois, SIU has the first two out of three. But according to John Koropchak, a professor of chemistry and Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Dean at the university, the availability of bandwidth for SIU maxes out at 380 Megabits per second (Mbps).

Guidelines by the National Science Foundation call for bandwidth availability to be 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) to 2.5 Gbps. That’s up to seven times the bandwidth currently available.

Fortunately for SIU, greater bandwidth is coming to the Southern Illinois region, and throughout Illinois.

Today, June 2, 2011, beginning at 10 a.m. ET/9 a.m. CT, the Illinois Broadband Summit will convene here to address these bandwidth needs – and to plan broadband’s impact for the economic, educational and health care needs of the State. Video streaming of this significant event, which includes both a morning and an afternoon component, is available for FREE at http://broadbandillinois.org/events.html.

The Illinois Broadband Deployment Council

As part of the broadband stimulus funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, about $244 million in federal funds are flowing into the State from the U.S. Departments of Commerce (through NTIA) or the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. Coupled with private sector and State investments, about $353 million in funds is coming to Illinois. For more information, see http://broadbandillinois.org/Projects.

One the advantages that Illinois experienced in this national competition for federal stimulus dollars was the ground-laying work of Governor Pat Quinn’s Broadband Deployment Council. The council began in the middle of the last decade as a way to assemble, mobilize and promote a range of broadband initiatives. It is now seeing a flowering of possibilities with broadband investments.

At 10 a.m. ET/9 a.m. CT, the first half of the Illinois Broadband Summit will begin with a Broadband Deployment Council Meeting.

Lt. Governor Sheila Simon, who hails from Carbondale, will offer video greetings. Under the theme of “Educational Advancement Made Possible by Broadband,” she will be followed by State Schools Superintendant Christopher Koch, who will discuss broadband’s role and impact upon distance learning.

Telemedicine and higher education will be discussed at 12 noon ET/11 a.m. CT, on a panel that includes Dr. Koropchak discussing SIU’s bandwidth needs, and others.

Fiberizing the Illinois Coal Belt

To Glenn Poshard, the President of SIU, the new broadband stimulus projects will bring water to a desert – and could be culmination of a longtime vision for incentivizing faster internet availability and broadband use in the region.

Dr. Poshard will lay out some of this quest near the beginning of the afternoon session at 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT. He has been tireless in seeking ways to bring stakeholders together. In the early days, many economic development efforts sought a future for a changed regional economy. It was one in which the former stable of coal production had been severely diminished.

SIU was then instrumental in the formation of ConnectSI, an economic development organization focused on internet access in the lower 20 counties of the State. This project in turn bequeathed the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, which also recognized by the name of its web site, or Broadbandillinois.org. PCI is now the State Broadband Initiative entity for Illinois. Kathy Lively, Executive Director of ConnectSI, and Vice Chairman of PCI, will recount her role in this process at 4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT.

Responding to the Gigabit Challenge

Among the most significant broadband investments coming to Illinois right now are those of Clearwave Communication, http://broadbandillinois.org/Projects/Clearwave.html, and Shawnee Telephone, at http://broadbandillinois.org/Projects/Shawnee-Telephone.html.

Clearwave project is a $45.4 million dollar comprehensive project installing 740.4 miles of 96 count fiber optic cable providing network coverage in 23 counties in Southern Illinois.  Of these counties, 20 of them are considered economically distressed, with smaller populations ranging from 1,000 to 20,000.  The Clearwave project will directly connect 232 community anchor institutions, including 111 K-12 schools, 9 community colleges, 60 hospitals and health care facilities, 28 Public Service Facilities, 23 libraries – and Southern Illinois University.

Shawnee Telephone Project is an $8.4 million dollar last mile project, also in Southern Illinois. As with Clearwave, Shawnee is a private company. It will provide fiber broadband access to over 2,100 households, 420 businesses and 27 anchor institutions. Currently, in Shawnee’s project area, no households in the region have access to broadband service at speeds better than 5Mbps – and 40 percent of the households don’t have broadband at all. This fiber-to-home network will blow those speeds out to 100 Mbps.

Representatives from Clearwave and Shawnee will discuss their projects – and their fast pace of deploying fiber investments – during the afternoon portion of the program. The afternoon is built around the theme of positing Illinois communities for success, and showing a model for rural regions around the country.

But as successful at Clearwave and Shawnee appear to be on track to being, these two broadband providers won’t be enough to satiate desert-like broadband conditions throughout the State, and our nation.

In fact, under the vision for connecting community anchor institutions articulated by the Assistant Secretary of Commerce Lawrence Strickling of NTIA, even basic anchor tenants like public libraries and K-12 schools need at least 1 Gbps to chart an effective future course.

In the afternoon portion of today’s program, Graham Richard, who was instrumental in bringing private-sector fiber investment to Fort Wayne, will offer a challenge to all of us.

To get where we need to be as a State and a nation, we need to think as a gigabit state and gigabit nation. How are we going to get there? To find out, tune it to broadbandillinois.org/events.html at 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT.

This Expert Opinion originally appeared on Broadband Illinois, at http://broadbandillinois.org/news/32. “On Broadband” is the column written by Drew Clark, Executive Director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois.

Drew Clark is the Executive Director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, or broadbandillinois.org, which is the designated entity under the State Broadband Data and Development grant program based in Springfield, Illinois. Through convening stakeholders, the creation of local eTeams, and other activities, broadbandillinois.org has the mission to build a statewide effort to make the case that Better Broadband Leads to Better Lives. Additionally, Drew is the founder of BroadbandCensus.com and BroadbandBreakfast.com.

Education

Libraries Must Be Vigilant To Ensure Adequate Broadband, Consultants Say

Derek Shumway

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Photo of Stephanie Stenberg via Internet2

April 7, 2021 – Libraries should monitor their broadband speeds and ensure they are getting quality connections, according to library consultants.

Carson Block from Carson Block Consulting and Stephanie Stenberg of the Internet2 Community Anchor program told a virtual conference hosted by the American Library Association on Tuesday that it’s time libraries take a closer look at how they are getting broadband and if they are getting the speeds they are paying for. If not, they said they should re-negotiate.

Block and Stenberg shared details about the “Towards Gigabit Libraries” (TGL) toolkit, a free, self-service guide for rural and tribal libraries to better understand and improve their broadband. The new toolkit helps libraries prepare for E-Rate internet subsidy requests to aid their budget cycles.

It also has tips about communicating effectively between library and tech people since there is a gap in knowledge between those two groups. The TGL is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Gigabit Libraries and Beyond (GLG) to improve the toolkit and expand throughout the United States. In addition to focusing on rural and tribal libraries, now urban libraries will be included for support.

During the event, a live poll showed all participating attendees said they “very infrequently” had technical IT support available in their home libraries. Stenberg said this confirmed TGL’s findings that libraries need more tech and IT support, as the majority of respondents in previous surveys gave similar concerning results.

To really emphasize the need for adequate broadband and support at libraries, another question was asked to live attendees about their current level of expertise around procuring and delivering access to broadband as a service in their library, assuming that the majority of attendees worked for libraries. All participants said they possess “no experience” trying to get broadband in the library.

Common issues that are to blame include libraries with insufficient bandwidth, data wiring or poorly set-up networks. Old and obsolete equipment also contributed to bad Wi-Fi coverage.

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Education

Schools And Libraries Look For Solutions With $7 Billion In Federal Help

Derek Shumway

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Screenshot from SHLB event

April 6, 2021 – In a webinar last week hosted by the Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), panelists discussed opportunities schools and libraries have to better serve their communities with the recent $7 billion provided through the American Rescue Plan, a $1.98 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden on last month.

Laura Cole, director at the BiblioTech public library, shared how a successful pilot program with Southwest Independent School District made a goal to provide digital access to 100 students. To date, 62 students had broadband installed with the remaining still being worked on. The project was done to act as a proof-of-concept for digital connection expansion in Bexar County, Texas, where broadband access rates are low. Though the program’s success has caused it to be extended through December 31, 2021, Cole said she recognizes that there needs to be a more permanent solution to close the digital divide in all areas where people lack internet.

At the Brooklyn Public Library in New York City, Selvon Smith, president of information technology and chief information officer at the library, said that collaborative programs with the New York Public Library, Queens Public Library, and the New York City Department of Education were able to provide thousands of free hotspot devices for the entire school year to under-connected people. The organizations created a “Bookmobile Wi-Fi” program that was comprised of three vans and one truck stocked with laptops and outfitted with Wi-Fi antennas.

And it’s not just libraries that benefitted from the $7 billion provided through the American Rescue Plan. Rajesh Adusumilli, assistant superintendent for information services at Arlington County public schools (APS), said his organization worked to address student connectivity needs throughout the pandemic. The rollout of the 1-2-3 Connect Me pilot program was a core part along with maintaining Comcast’s Internet Essentials Program sponsorship and continuing to provide devices and wireless access hotspots at Arlington’s public schools.

This pilot program was financed by the Virginia governor’s Fasttrack Broadband Funding program, and is an extension of broadband services off of the APS and county-owned fiber network.

It uses technology on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum band, which has allowed private networks solely meant for students. It allows for students to connect to the APS network from home so they can continue distance learning instruction and access APS resources. It also can save money as it does not require the county to build additional fiber to create the extension.

Now, all Arlington Public Schools are set up with wireless access, with 99.2 percent of all APS students having participated successfully in synchronous learning activities.

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Education

Lack of Awareness Sees Michigan Schools And Libraries Miss Out on E-Rate Funding: State Coordinator

Derek Shumway

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Photo of Joe Polasek taken from his LinkedIn page

March 30, 2021 – Despite expanded funding for the E-Rate internet subsidy program for schools and libraries, the Michigan State program coordinator said there’s an awareness problem that is causing those institutions to miss out on money in the state.

“I don’t know any school or library that feels they have enough funding,” Joe Polasek said at the “Connecting Michigan Communities: Digital Education in Michigan” event, hosted by Connected Nation Michigan.

The E-Rate program is based on free and reduced lunch eligibility reported by schools and can support schools’ recurring or one-time service costs for internet. In some cases, the program can cover up to 90 percent of an internet service bill, something Polasek would like to see more schools and libraries take advantage of in his state.

There have been recent legislative proposals to extend the E-Rate to cover internet subsidies to the home.

If a school or library qualifies for E-Rate funding, it can then use money that would have gone toward paying the internet bill for other needs like technology or education improvements.

While a growing number of schools are eligible in the program, the need to push libraries to qualify is even greater. Three years ago, 50 percent of Michigan libraries were participating in the E-Rate program, said Polasek. Libraries need to be aware of the benefits and help available to them in accessing much-needed funds and filing proper paperwork to qualify.

To date, Polasek said efforts to raise awareness of E-Rate funding have grown steadily, which has culminated in nearly 65 percent of libraries now receiving E-Rate funding.

Polasek’s role as a state coordinator is to facilitate the application process for prospective schools and libraries. He made it clear that he cannot actually file the paperwork on behalf of the applicant, but he is there to answer any questions and educate.

The verification process for E-Rate can be tricky to handle, he said. Confirming that the student count and discount rate are accurate is important because money is on the line.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story said that the E-Rate program was recently expanded to cover subsidies to the home. The story has been corrected to say that various legislative proposals have been introduced to achieve that. As it is, the E-Rate program is based on free and reduced lunch eligibility reported by schools and can support schools’ recurring or one-time service costs for the internet.

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