C-U featured in national Internet initiative launch event

By Angelica Lavito

Champaign and Urbana were featured at a launch event on Monday for Next Century Cities, a bipartisan, city-to-city organization that aims to ensure the availability of next generation broadband Internet for all communities.

Champaign and Urbana are two of the 32 cities that are part of the new organization and sent representatives to the launch event in Santa Monica, California. Champaign Mayor Don Gerard, Champaign City Council member at-large Tom Bruno, and Urbana City Council Alderman Charlie Smyth, Ward 1, attended the launch. 

“We are an initiative that specifically works with cities that are interested in figuring out how to ensure their communities have fast, affordable and reliable Internet,” said Next Century Cities Executive Director Deb Socia.

Representatives from the cities agreed on the importance of providing high-speed Internet to their communities and engaged in panel discussions with other community leaders about topics such as how increased Internet access improved their economies.

“We hope to be able to curate available resources, hold meetings where people can share successes, provide webinars from experts on topics that are timely and important to cities, to elevate these good stories and share them across the country through a variety of ways of support,” Socia said.

Of the 32 cities involved in the initiative, 27 sent representatives to Santa Monica for the launch event, Socia said. Other inaugural cities include Boston, Massachusetts, Portland, Oregon and San Antonio, Texas.

“I really look forward to the time when they have an opportunity to talk to one another,” Socia said. “Having worked in Boston, I know that when you’re working in City Hall, sometimes it can be hard to connect with people from across the country and know what they’re doing.”

In 2012, Champaign and Urbana began working on Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband, an intergovernmental consortium and not-for-profit corporation that built and operates the area’s open-access fiber-optic broadband network. It offers fiber optic infrastructure that consists of the fastest, most state-of-the-art-fiber-optic network communication technology on the planet, according to its website. 

Funding for the project came from a $22.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a $3.5 million grant from the state of Illinois and $3.4 million in local matching funds.

“The new highway is fiber; it’s the Internet,” Gerard said. “When we’re virtually all connected on the same high-speed network and information is going both ways, it’ll be a whole new platform upon which we live.”

Angelica can be reached at [email protected].