Champaign to work with broadband grant

Champaign, Urbana and the University could be receiving faster, more competitive service from broadband suppliers if proposed community-wide fiber optic network plan passes.

A recent $7.2 billion “big broadband” grant from the federal government’s stimulus package has motivated the Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband committee to present a community-wide plan for a fiber-optic network to the cities of Urbana, Champaign and the University.

According to the committee in presentations to the Urbana and Champaign city councils, it would be a $30 million to $35 million project for the area.

With this plan the federal government will provide an 80 percent match of any funds provided by the cities and University.

The committee is asking for approximately $567,000 from Urbana and $920,000 from Champaign, said Mike Smeltzer, director of networking at the University.

Champaign is being asked to bear more of the financial responsibility because a large portion of the network will fall in the city, Smeltzer said. The University has already ear-marked $905,000 of its budget for the project.

The federal government is granting funds for broadband services that would service the under served and vulnerable. Although these terms have not yet been defined, the committee is confident that the plan is a good match.

“What we want to do is provide service to the low income neighborhoods first and eventually build out to the higher income neighborhoods,” said Peter Resnick, chair of the Big Broadband group.

Providing government-funded broadband to low-income neighborhoods would be a step in closing the “digital gap.”

The project would also create more jobs and hopefully stimulate the local economy, said Will Kyles, District 1 councilman. Kyles’ district would receive the majority of the service in its first stages, he said.

Additionally, fiber optic cables would provide faster service and allow more competition among providers.

“I don’t want to sugar coat this, this is a big project,” Resnick said. “But because 80 percent of the money is going to come from the federal government, this is the perfect time to do this.”