Illinois Seeks Public Support for Broadband Plan

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, October 28, 2022

Weekly Digest

Illinois Seeks Public Support for Broadband Plan

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of October 24-28, 2022

Kevin Taglang
Taglang

Back in April, Illinois enacted legislation, the Broadband Infrastructure Advancement Act (P.A. 102-0699), that requires overarching procedures to make use of coming federal monies to support broadband deployment projects. The new law requires the Illinois Office of Broadband to establish program eligibility and selection criteria by administrative rules for any grants for broadband deployment, broadband expansion, broadband access, broadband affordability, and broadband improvement projects. The administrative rules will establish programmatic information, including addressing application requirements and eligibility criteria.

This month, the Illinois Office of Broadband seeks comment on its proposed rules that aim to create added certainty in advance of federal funding available to the state through the American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Comments in the proceeding are due Monday, November 21.

Connect Illinois Broadband Grant Program

Governor J.B. Pritzker (D-IL) launched a statewide initiative in August 2019, Connect Illinois, to expand broadband access across the entire state. The program represents an integral and strategic component of both the comprehensive 2019 Rebuild Illinois infrastructure program and the state's five-year economic plan to expand economic opportunity and reduce socioeconomic gaps through equity investment. Connect Illinois started with a capital investment from Rebuild Illinois, along with the creation of a Broadband Advisory Council and the Illinois Office of Broadband, housed in the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The investment launched a $400 million broadband grant program and a $20 million capital program for the Illinois Century Network, a high-speed broadband network serving K-12 and higher education institutions, among others.

The purpose of the Connect Illinois Broadband Grant Program is to make capital improvement grants to eligible entities to achieve universal broadband access for homes, businesses, and community anchor institutions. At the same time, Connect Illinois seeks progress in digital equity and inclusion while leveraging investment in new broadband infrastructure to spur advances in use and innovation for such areas as agriculture, economic development, education, and telehealth.

Proposed Rules

In advance of federal funding from the Capital Projects Fund, the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, or any other federal or state sources of support, the Illinois Office of Broadband now proposes rules to, as mandated by the new state law, be in compliance with all federal regulations, rules and guidances resulting from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Eligible Project Activities

Connect Illinois will make grant awards to eligible entities for:

  1. Broadband Access for Illinois homes, businesses, and community anchor institutions in unserved or underserved areas.
  2. Broadband Innovation for economic development and related activities.
  3. Urban Broadband for expanded access and/or innovation in qualified Illinois cities of 75,000 residents or more.

Allowable activities are limited to capital improvement expenses. All Connect Illinois projects must include infrastructure expansion scalable to speeds of at least 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload upon deployment. 

Specifically, grant funds can help with expenses for:

  • network design;
  • project planning;
  • obtaining the required construction permits;
  • facility construction including deployment of middle-mile and/or last-mile infrastructure;
  • durable equipment; and
  • installation and testing of broadband service.

Eligible Locations

For broadband access projects, proposals covering unserved and/or underserved areas are eligible for Connect Illinois grant funding:

  • "Unserved Area" means an applicant designated project area of Illinois in which households, businesses, or community anchor institutions lack access to wireline broadband service of at least 25/3 Mbps.
  • "Underserved Area" means an applicant designated project area of Illinois in which households, businesses, or community anchor institutions have wireline broadband access of at least 25/3 Mbps but less than 100/20 Mbps.

Entities Eligible for Support

Only "eligible entities" can apply for and win Connect Illinois grants. "Eligible Entities" means an incorporated business or partnership; a political subdivision; a nonprofit organization; a cooperative association; or a limited liability corporation organized for the purpose of expanding broadband access. Illinois public school districts are eligible to apply but may be encouraged to leverage other available federal or education-specific funding prior to an award.

Application Process

After the proposed rules are approved, the Illinois Office of Broadband will post one or more Notices of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) seeking applications from eligible entities. Applicants will have no fewer than 30 days to submit proposals after a NOFO is posted. Applications will be accepted on an ongoing basis until the funds for the program are depleted or the application period closes, whichever comes first. Applicants will be required to provide the following information about the proposed project:

  1. a description of the purpose of the grant project;
  2. a project dashboard summarizing key activities including a description of activities, eligible costs, communities served, technology, and infrastructure metrics;
  3. a description of the overall project;
  4. a description of the broadband-related problems and challenges facing the targeted communities and customers, needs and gaps, the shortcomings of existing solutions, challenges with prior attempts to solve the problem, and how the project significantly solves the problem;
  5. a description of the project's solution to the broadband-related problem including the network technology, internet services, and business strategy to drive adoption;
  6. a description of the targeted beneficiaries of the project that addresses the location of the communities, market size, economic conditions of the service areas, and targeted customer segments, including providing information on the unserved and/or underserved areas (if applicable) that will be included within the scope of the project;
  7. a description of anticipated social and economic benefits that will be realized by the distinct customer segments;
  8. a narrative description of the organization's mission and operating history;
  9. a description of the capabilities, experiences, and track record of the organization and its partners to successfully implement, operate, and sustain the project;
  10. a description of the projects service area including a map of the proposed project area;
  11. project impact statement including, but not limited to, the number of serviceable user segments, list of premises served, and list of interconnection points;
  12. a narrative description of the specific social and economic benefits of connecting the following user segments – residents, businesses, community institutions, and other internet service providers;
  13. whether the project is providing broadband improvements to an economically distressed area;
  14. if applicable, the non-state matching funds and demonstration of financial need;
  15. the specific activities and costs proposed for the grant;
  16. a requested budget and supporting justification of the costs requested;
  17. evidence of community support for the project;
  18. a detailed narrative regarding the project readiness;
  19. a description of the project viability and sustainability including network capacity and scalability, and financial sustainability; and
  20. pricing strategy, affordability, and adoption assistance.

Grant Award Selection

Per Illinois and federal rules, grants will be awarded to eligible entities following a merit review of the applications. In evaluating applications, the Illinois Office of Broadband will consider the following criteria:

  • The application indicates the overall project impact including the degree to which the project will improve broadband access to premises in unserved or underserved areas;
  • The applicant's demonstration of need and detailed, cost-effective budget;
  • The amount of non-state matching funds;
  • The level of community support for the project, including but not limited to local non-state matching funds and letters of support;
  • The overall project readiness;
  • The project's viability and sustainability;
  • The affordability and adoption assistance provided by the project;
  • The quality of the project including open access, shared use, and business strategy; and
  • Any additional information to demonstrate or support the information submitted by the applicant for the proposed project.

Priority will be given to projects that include a cash match of nonstate funding—from private, federal, and/or local sources—totaling 50 percent or more of eligible total project costs. [However, a 50 percent nonstate match is not required for an application to be competitive.]

The Broadband Office will also consider the relevant geographic balance; project focus; and nonstate match.

Grant Agreements

Eligible entities that are awarded grants will be required to enter into a grant agreement that sets forth the rights and responsibilities of the grantee and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The agreement will reflect all applicable state and federal statutory and administrative requirements, including provisions covering expenditure of grant funds and utilization of property purchased with grant funds. The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will reserve the right to suspend or terminate a grant agreement, recover grant funds, or withhold any future funding for non-compliance with the grant agreement provisions.

The agreement will also provide a schedule for grant fund disbursement which will be based on the grantee making satisfactory progress to implement grant
activities.

Grant Performance, Monitoring and Reporting Requirements

Connect Illinois grant agreements will lay out grant performance, administration, monitoring and reporting, including monitoring any subrecipients. Grant performance goals and performance and expenditure reporting will be based on the specific grant project activities of each grant award. Grantees will be required to submit periodic financial and performance reports at least quarterly. 

Grantees will be subject to audits per state law.

Grantees must monitor their grant activities, and those of any subrecipients, to assure compliance with applicable state and federal requirements and to assure their performance expectations are being achieved. The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will monitor the activities of grantees to assure compliance with all requirements and performance expectations of the award. Grantees will timely submit all financial and performance reports, and shall supply, upon the department's request, documents and information relevant to the award. The department may monitor activities through site visits.

The Chance for Public Input

The Illinois Office of Broadband posted the proposed rules for public comment earlier this month. The comment period ends Monday, November 21. Comments must be submitted in writing to:

Bridget Schutt
Rules Administrator
Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
555 W. Monroe, Suite 1200
Chicago, IL 60661
312-579-6757
[email protected]

The rules are being reviewed by the Illinois Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a bipartisan legislative oversight committee created by the General Assembly in 1977. The committee is authorized to conduct systematic reviews of administrative rules promulgated by Illinois agencies. The committee has two purposes:

  • ensure that the Illinois General Assembly is adequately informed of how laws are implemented through agency rulemaking; and
  • facilitate public understanding of rules and regulations.  

The Illinois Broadband Office is aiming to win final approval for its rules and begin a round of Connect Illinois grantmaking by February 2023.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

Nov 1––Disability Advisory Committee Meeting (FCC)

Nov 2-3––Decade of Digital Inclusion 2022 (Marconi Society)

Nov 2––How Closing the Digital Divide Benefits Everyone – Not Just the Unconnected (Common Sense)

Nov 7––Meeting of the Communications Equity and Diversity Council (FCC)

Nov 10––Meaningfully Connected: The Politics, Policies, and Polities of Digital Scarcity (University of Pennsylvania)

Nov 16––California and the FCC Unite to Eliminate Digital Discrimination (Michelson 20MM Foundation)

Nov 17––Open Federal Communications Commission Meeting (FCC)

 

 

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.


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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
847-328-3040
headlines AT benton DOT org

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