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July 23, 2003

Governor signs bill expanding high speed internet access to rural communities
Signs new law in Robinson on last day of 3-day bus tour

Robinson, ILL. – On the last day of a three-day bus tour through eastern Illinois, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich stopped at Lincoln Trail Community College in Robinson today to sign legislation that improves the state’s efforts to eliminate the “digital divide” in rural communities.


“Advances in technology have opened the doors to new opportunities for individuals and businesses,” said Blagojevich.  “But as we move forward, it’s critical to make sure communities across Illinois are able to share in these new benefits.  We’re doing that today by helping rural areas gain advanced internet access through the Digital Divide Elimination Infrastructure Fund.”


By the end of 2003, 500 million people are expected to use the internet.  In 1998, businesses and consumers spent more than $50 billion online, and projections call for $400 billion to be spent online by 2005.


Despite the growing use of online services, communities in nearly one-quarter of Illinois zip codes do not have access to high speed internet service.  By comparison, only 7 percent of zip codes in California and New York lack access to high speed internet service, and only 15 percent in Texas.


The legislation signed today, Senate Bill 553 sponsored by Sen. Don Harmon and Rep. Constance A. Howard, makes it easier for technology providers to access grants from the Digital Divide Elimination Infrastructure Fund by changing the eligibility requirements.  Under the new law, high-speed internet providers can obtain a subsidy on the cost of building the necessary transmission facilities if the community in which it is building meets following three criteria:


·        the Illinois Commerce Commission has determined that advanced telecommunications services are under-provided to residential or business users;

·        the community has a low population density; and,

·        the community lacks a competitive market for advanced technology.


By the end of next year, a total of $11 million will have been allocated for the fund from money collected from SBC by the Illinois Commerce Commission.


The Digital Divide Elimination Infrastructure Fund was established as part of Illinois’ telecommunications reform package passed in 2001 and was intended to subsidize the construction of high-speed internet or advanced telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas of the state.   However, the original eligibility requirements were too restrictive – only companies that had been waived of the responsibility for providing advanced telecommunications services could apply.  As a result, no grants have been released since the fund’s creation. 


The new law becomes effective immediately.


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