Big Broadband Grant approved for high speed Internet project in Urbana

The Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband grant was approved with a 5-0 vote at the Urbana City Council meeting Monday night.

The fiber-optic broadband Internet project entails a $22.5 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and would connect institutions such as hospitals and libraries.

It would also allow 4,600 homes in lower-income neighborhoods access to a higher-speed Internet service if all of the homes are willing to utilize the service.

Pradeep Khanna, associate vice chancellor for public engagment at the University, said access to high speed Internet would be essential to the success of the University. The University would draw upon the resources of the Internet service to continue to attract students and innovative faculty.

Mike Monson, Urbana’s chief of staff, said the initial time frame for deciding whether to accept or reject the grant was March 2 to April 1. The deadline was extended to April 9, but the council was able to make a decision on the grant a few days beforehand.

“It turned out that they got notice from the feds that the official 30-day deadline was April 9,” Monson added. “I’m not exactly sure what the reasons were ­- it was a little bit longer than what they thought. The council wanted to take their time.”

Phyllis Clark, Urbana’s city clerk, said the mayor is appointing policy and technical committees for the project. Monson said the ball is in both committees’ court now.

“(The technical committee) is going to have a whole host of issues because they’re going to have to decide about the design, environmental assessments, determine what kind of electronics they want to use, a lot of technical type issues,” he said. “The policy committee will be more the voting body and that will be made up of two members each from U of I, Champaign, Urbana and then the chair of the technical committee will be the seventh member of the policy committee.”

Rev. Zernial Bogan, Urbana resident, said the project would prove advantageous for the city.

“This helps our community to enrich ourselves,” he said. “We can’t have one part of the community lagging behind.”

The Big Broadband project may not be the only plan that connects the community to high speed Internet service. Google Fiber, a pilot program launched by Google that will test high speed Internet service in communities, is also being considered by Urbana.

The application for the Google project has already been sent in, said Mike Smeltzer, director of network communications for the University’s Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services department.

The company will have to wade through 1,100 applications before choosing three or four communities by the end of the calendar year, Smeltzer said.