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 Ill

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

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

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 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,, and Shawnee Telephone, at

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 at 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT.

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

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