Whiteside County among Inaugural Accelerate Illinois Program Cohorts
SPRINGFIELD – Whiteside County is among six communities selected to participate in the
inaugural cohort of the Accelerate Illinois Broadband Infrastructure Planning Program. Team members from the Illinois Fiber Resources Group, NFP (iFiber) are playing an integral role in initiating the program in Whiteside County.
Governor J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
(DCEO) Office of Broadband announced the selected communities in a press release dated
Feb. 24, 2022. The announcement was made in collaboration with Heartland Forward and the
Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. The other five inaugural participants are the City of Springfield, Jackson County, Knox County, Mercer County, and the Village of Elsah.
iFiber team members serving on Whiteside County’s steering committee helping to implement the program are Marc Thorson, Executive Director, Regional Technology Services, NIU/iFiber, and Daniel Payette, Executive Director, Blackhawk Hills Regional Council, and a member of the iFiber Outreach Team.
The 14-week intensive training program will help leaders from participating communities
develop broadband plans responsive to their unique local needs and position them to effectively leverage newly available state and federal broadband infrastructure funding. Whiteside County and other participants are launching community surveys to gather input and data from local residents and stakeholders to help shape their plans.
“Whiteside County needs a comprehensive plan to bring reliable, high-speed internet to our
students and families across our community,” said Joel Horn, County Administrator of Whiteside
County. “We’re grateful to be part of the Accelerate Illinois program, which will give us an
opportunity to help our institutions, agencies and organizations develop a plan to get our residents connected.”
Numerous organizations are participating in Whiteside County’s Accelerate program. Each has
a representative on the Whiteside County Accelerate Steering Team (WCAST). Participants
include three broadband infrastructure and service providers – iFiber, JoCarroll Energy, and
Surf Broadband. Both iFiber and JoCarroll Energy are not-for-profit organizations; Surf Broadband is a for-profit organization.
WCAST organizations include: Surf Broadband, ROE 47, Blackhawk Hills Regional Council,
Greater Sterling Development Corporation, Sauk Valley Chamber of Commerce, NIU Regional
Technology Services/iFiber, Sauk Valley Community College, SBDC at SVCC, Whiteside
County Health Department, Whiteside County, Whiteside County Administrator’s Office,
Whiteside County Economic Development, Whiteside County Farm Bureau, JoCarroll Energy,
Whiteside County Senior Center, and Tri-County Opportunities Council.
In the press release, Gov. Pritzker stated that broadband infrastructure is only as useful as it is
accessible to the people who need it. The state is partnering with local jurisdictions to develop broadband plans responsive to their unique local needs.
“Thanks to our Connect Illinois initiative and federal funding on the way from President Biden’s
infrastructure plan, there’s never been more potential to reach our goal of closing the digital
divide here in Illinois,” he said. “I’m grateful to Heartland Forward, the Benton Institute and all
our partners on the Accelerate Illinois program working to ensure communities across our state are prepared to utilize this funding effectively.”
With the recent passage of the $1 trillion federal infrastructure plan, Illinois communities stand
poised to receive historic funding for the expansion of broadband infrastructure. This is in
addition to Governor Pritzker’s bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital plan which dedicated $420
million to broadband expansion as well as funds made available through the American Rescue
Plan Act (ARPA). Accelerate Illinois aims to level the playing field and support cities and
counties of all sizes and staffing levels to apply for these funds and plan to most effectively implement them in their communities.
The Accelerate Illinois program is offered through a collaborative effort between the Illinois
Office of Broadband, the Illinois-based Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, and the University of Illinois Extension as well as funding by Heartland Forward.
The training is designed to guide communities through the process of establishing and
implementing a full-scale broadband connectivity vision. With more than 30 hours of no-cost
expert counsel provided by the Benton Institute, the program provides structured education and
engagement for communities to identify broadband goals, gather information and analyze
opportunities, understand available funding options, and target capital dollars to support implementation.
A core component of the program is the community survey to gather information from local residents, businesses, and community stakeholders about their current use of broadband and satisfaction with existing services. Accelerate program participants will gather input through both online and paper surveys. The online survey process will include a link to an internet speed test to show current broadband speeds and provide visual evidence of whether existing providers need to upgrade services or new providers should come in to meet the state’s broadband goals.
The Accelerate Illinois Notice of Collaboration originally opened in December as a pilot program
to serve up to 12 communities as part of this initiative. Six of the 12 communities have started in this cohort.
In addition to the first cohort of six communities, there will be a second cohort of Accelerate Illinois communities will be announced later this spring. For more information, visit the DCEO website.