Illinois wins $253.7 million in federal funding to boost internet access in underserved areas

The new federal money will be used to connect 87,613 households and businesses in Illinois without high-speed internet access.

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The COVID-19 pandemic threw a spotlight on digital devices and the need for internet access.

Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Biden White House, Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth with Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday that $253.7 million in federal funds will be sent to Illinois to boost broadband infrastructure development where it is lacking throughout the state.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a spotlight on internet affordability and availability and the need to make it as common as other utilities, such as electricity and water.

During the pandemic, the issue of digital inequities in rural Illinois and parts of the Chicago area with high numbers of low-income residents became more important as much of everyday activity is conducted over the internet,

The $253.7 million in federal money — which is part of the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund — will connect 87,613 households and businesses, according to the state, which will cover about 25% of areas in Illinois without high-speed internet access.

“You can still run into people who remember their grandfathers and grandmothers telling the story about when electricity came to the American farm, back in the 1930s,” Durbin said.

“And President Franklin Roosevelt realized without electricity, farmers and rural residents had no chance of being part of the 20th century economy. They brought electricity to the farms and created modern farming in the process. Now you see the same young people recounting their grandparents story.

“They’re struggling to understand why they don’t have access to the internet. They realize it’s important for their education. It’s critical for keeping businesses and attracting new ones. That’s why the American Rescue Plan is a plan for jobs and business creation and to give kids a fighting chance to be competitive” in the world economy.

Durbin spoke in a Zoom call with the governor, Duckworth, White House American Rescue Plan coordinator Gene Sperling and others.

The money is flowing directly to the state of Illinois through the Treasury Department, which approved the state’s application for this broadband grant. The department said the Connect Illinois Broadband Grant “will prioritize projects that demonstrate community support, deploy fiber-optic infrastructure, provide affordable service.”

Duckworth, a member of the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband — which has jurisdiction over internet-related matters, said on the call, “This funding will help governments with critical capital projects, including reliable affordable broadband infrastructure and other digital connectivity technology projects.”

Many low-income households may be eligible for internet discounts of up to $30 a month. The Biden administration has gotten pledges from 20 internet providers to offer high-speed service for not more than $30 a month. To find out if you are eligible for this break — and sign up for it if you are — check out

BACKGROUND: The Pritzker administration has been working on broadband equity, access and affordability issues for several years, starting before the pandemic. Pritzker’s Rebuild Illinois capital plan included $420 million for broadband infrastructure improvements.

The state, Pritzker said on the call, “has long recognized the need for public-sector leadership and broadband expansion, even before the pandemic revealed the true magnitude and consequences of the digital divide.”

“...Together. federal and state investment will allow us to expand broadband access to every corner of our state,” Pritzker said.

Under the state programs, “tens of thousands” of homes and businesses in the state have already gotten connections, Pritzker said.

Asked how long it would take for the new federal dollars to help Chicago — over and above what the state is already doing — the governor said it could take up to a year “to lay fiber or to find the best and fastest internet connection to reach an area and then to actually put those dollars to work. So I would say it might take a year for the federal dollars that we’re seeing today to actually reach those communities in Chicago, but it’s not for lack of there being progress already on the state level. It’s just that it takes a little time to get these dollars to work, and these new dollars are going to be tremendously helpful.”

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