broadband 052820SPRINGFIELD – State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) joins the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Office of Broadband to announce the new Illinois Connected Communities grant program.

The program is designed to assist local governments, schools and community organizations with building broadband capacity. The $150,000 grant opportunity will help communities close existing gaps and lay the groundwork for improved broadband access, adoption and utilization. The grants will be provided on a competitive basis, and applications will be accepted here through June 12.

“The pandemic has really magnified the challenges that people who have a lack of internet access have dealt with,” Bennett said. “As we continue to face this crisis, it’s clear that access to broadband is a necessity for people to access education, healthcare, jobs and even state benefits.”

This latest grant program builds on the capital commitment made through Connect Illinois, which includes a $400 million investment, and is aimed at improving access to broadband for the entire state. The first $50 million of this investment is expected to be awarded in the coming weeks.

A product of partnership between the Illinois Office of Broadband and the Evanston-based Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, the Illinois Connected Communities program is designed to engage a first-year cohort of communities through best practice curriculum, expert consultation, and up to $15,000 for initial community planning and capacity building. By collaborating with the Benton Institute and area philanthropy, the State of Illinois will leverage additional funds of at least an equal amount to provide expert consultations and best practices curriculum available to the grantees.

Grantees will participate in a combination of focused in-person and/or online community-specific, cohort-wide, and regional activities throughout a period of up to 12-months. These activities will involve a representative community broadband steering committee, and build toward creation of a community-driven Broadband Strategic Plan. At any point during the program communities may invest their grant funding toward one or more of the following:

  • Connected Community staff time or overhead,
  • Study, planning, or preparation for broadband access, adoption or utilization,
  • Additional broadband-related support, technical assistance or consultative services.

Communities seeking more information on the grants program are encouraged to tune in to the Developing Broadband Leadership webinar series, a collaborative effort among the Illinois Office of Broadband, the Benton Institute and University of Illinois Extension. Live webinars invite national experts, community leaders, and broadband providers from across Illinois to connect. The next webinar is at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday. The first meeting was held last week, with Governor JB Pritzker providing opening remarks and encouraging communities to take advantage of the state’s broadband grant programs, as well as other Office of Broadband resources. Register for future webinars and gain access to archived materials here.