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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

Coalition Says FCC E-rate Portal Proposal Could Create More Problems

Industry officials say the commission’s approach to E-rate competition would burden applicants.

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John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

WASHINGTON, December 21, 2021 – The executive director of a broadband coalition for anchor institutions said the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to force providers to bid for school and library services through a new portal will burden those applicants.

The agency proposed Thursday to force service providers to submit applications through a bidding portal overseen by the Universal Service Administrative Company, which administers the E-rate program that provides broadband subsidies to schools and libraries. The current approach is that libraries and schools announce they are seeking services and service providers would apply directly to those institutions.

By giving USAC the ability to see service provider applications before they go to the institutions, the agency said this would eliminate at least some forms of abuse or fraud, including participants who may misrepresent their certification or circumvent competitive-bidding rules.

But John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, said that while he applauds the effort to listen to consumer needs, the portal’s one-size-fits-all approach would ultimately burden E-rate applicants and service providers.

He also claimed that there is not enough evidence to show that a new portal is needed and that it “would add a lot more federal bureaucracy on a program that is running pretty well right now.

“You would have federal employees at USAC trying to make determinations about what’s…in the best interests of the schools or libraries,” said Windhausen, “And we don’t think they’re really qualified to do that.”

Windhausen also sees potential conflict between the new bidding portal and some state laws already governing E-rate bidding. In a scenario in which state law and FCC policy conflict, it is not clear which policy would take precedence.

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Education

FCC Commits Another $603 Million in Emergency Connectivity Fund Money

The agency has now committed $3.8 billion from the $7.17-billion program.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, December 20, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission’s latest round of Emergency Connectivity Fund money will disburse $603 million to connect over 1.4 million students in all 50 states, the agency said Monday.

The FCC said it has now committed $3.8 billion of the $7.17-billion program, which provides funding for schools and libraries to buy laptops, tablets, WiFi hotspots, modems, routers and connectivity to help students stay connected off school premises. The money comes as a new Covid-19 variant sweeps the nation again, putting face-to-face interactions at risk once again.

The agency also said Monday that it has allocated an additional $367 million in its first commitment and nearly $236 million in the second commitment.

The agency in October said that previous rounds had committed $2.63 billion from the fund since its launch in June.

The total amount committed to go to support 9,000 schools, 760 libraries, and 100 consortia for nearly 8.3 million connected devices and over 4.4 million broadband connections, the agency said in a Monday release.

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Education

Texas High School Students Enter the Fight for Better Connectivity

Students in a Houston-area school district hosted a panel on connecting schools and libraries as part of a national event on bridging the digital divide.

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John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2021 – Generation Z students are making their mark at a Houston-area school district by adding broadband access to the list of issues they are actively working on.

The high school students in the Fort Bend Independent School District organized a panel conversation on internet access in education as part of Connected Nation’s national event titled “20 Years of Connecting the Nation,” and were able to host some high-profile guests in the world of telecommunications.

The November 17 panel included John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, Chris Martinez, division director of information technology for the Harris County Public Library, Heather Gate, vice president of digital inclusion for Connected Nation, and Meredith Watassek, director of career and technical education for Fort Bend ISD.

Nine percent of residents in Harris County, where Houston is located, reports that they do not have a connected device at home and 18 percent say they do not have access to an internet connection. These gaps in access are the focus of the panelists’ digital equity efforts.

With Windhausen and Martinez present on the panel, a key point of discussion was the importance of helping libraries to act as anchor institutions – institutions which help enable universal broadband access.

Watassek pointed out that she has been helping oversee distance learning in Fort Bend ISD for six years, starting such a program to enable teachers to teach students in several of the district’s buildings without having to drive to each one, and has seen that with time and learned experience it is possible to work through distance learning logistical issues that school districts around the nation are currently facing.

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