broadband 062520 SPRINGFIELD – State Senators Bill Cunningham and Andy Manar joined Governor JB Pritzker this week to announce $50 million in Connect Illinois grants that will support 28 projects expected to deliver high-speed internet access to more than 26,000 homes, businesses, farms, and community institutions across Illinois.

The announcement marks the launch of Connect Illinois, the state’s plan to bring basic internet access to every community in the state by 2024. This plan aims to improve access through an unprecedented capital investment and with the nation’s largest grant matching program.

The first round of Connect Illinois grants, totaling $50 million, will be matched by $65 million in non-state funds.

“Connect Illinois is about the right of all our communities to access health care, education, and economic opportunity – because in the 21st century, all those rights are tied to digital connectivity,” Pritzker said. “The unacceptable consequences of disparities in broadband access were clear before the COVID-19 pandemic – and over the last few months, we’ve seen firsthand what it means when a small business that had to close its doors has no online shop, what it means when an elderly couple has no safe way to get medical advice at a distance, what it means when a child has no ability to access homework assignments online. This work has never been more urgent – the disadvantages that persist when our communities are left out of opportunity demand ambitious efforts to bring them to a close.”

Manar, Cunningham, and the governor were joined by industry leaders and stakeholders.

"High speed internet is an absolute necessity for economic growth and our ability to deliver high-quality education and health care. For rural families and businesses, the effects of the digital divide have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic," said Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat. "Bold investments in broadband expansion under the Connect Illinois plan are the most impactful steps we can take to strengthen economic viability and secure a promising future for rural communities like those in Macoupin and northern Madison Counties. I appreciate the Pritzker administration’s commitment to closing this disparity in all corners of our state."

“Expanding access to broadband in underserved areas is not only vital for schools and e-learning, it is essential for economic development,” said Cunningham, a Democrat representing parts of Chicago and the southwest suburbs. “I’m proud to stand with Governor Pritzker as he makes these important investments in broadband technology.”

The Connect Illinois plan responds to the needs of key industries and business sectors that lack reliable, affordable internet access due to a number of factors, including their location. Farm and agriculture is one of those sectors – with an estimated 40% of farmers in Illinois underserved or completely unserved by reliable internet access.

The state’s largest-ever broadband expansion initiative, Connect Illinois includes 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.

Another round of Connect Illinois grants is expected to be released later this year. More information on these and other grant programs can be found on DCEO’s website.