Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural Illinois

Rural areas across the country have traditionally faced limited access to broadband services. The ultimate goal of the Illinois Commerce Commission (Commission) is to support the deployment of high speed networks across Illinois to ensure that all Illinois residents, even in the most rural areas of the state, have access to broadband services.

The Illinois Commerce Commission's Digital Divide Elimination Infrastructure Program

The Commission promulgated the finalized the administrative rules for the Digital Divide Elimination Infrastructure Fund (DDEIF) Program, which went into effect September 10, 2005, and developed the Request for Grant Proposals for the program. Response to the program was very good. Docket 06-0187 was opened on March 8, 2006 to complete review of the proposals. Commission Staff evaluated the 17 proposals by which applicants sought over $7.1 million in funding.

The projects are located in 39 counties of the less densely populated areas of Northwestern, Eastern, Southern and West-Central Illinois. (See the Digital Divide Map showing current projects.) The projects employ a range of broadband technologies via wireless, fiber-optic, and copper lines. The grantees are a diverse group that includes a municipality, a rural electric cooperative, CLECs, and a public-private partnership. The projects involve increased utilization of existing facilities such as fiber back bones and towers augmented by construction of new facilities and equipment. A range of services is being deployed for underserved residential, small business, and not-for-profit entities. These services include e-learning, web-hosting, IP telephony, and other broadband applications.

The Commission has awarded over $4 million with matching commitments of over $12 million towards broadband infrastructure construction. In addition, the State Librarian receives funding from the DDEIF fund in support of the National Federation for the Blind Newsline service. The Commission continues administering these project grants while the projects are in various stages of completion.