MORRISON – Sand Prairie, a service unit of Jo-Carroll Energy, was approved Tuesday evening as a broadband service provider for Whiteside County.
Whiteside County Council voted 23-0 on a plan that will roll out 1,000 miles of fiber optic broadband to more than 8,000 addresses and serve 21,000 residents reaching “every corner of rural Whiteside County”, said County Council Chairman James Duffy.
The project is estimated at over $70 million. Whiteside County is committing $3 million from American Rescue Plan Act funds.
Duffy called the approval of the broadband plan a significant milestone for the county, likening it to the expansion of the 19th century railroad or the development of the 20th century interstate highway system.
The deployment “will keep the county and its businesses competitive in today’s global environment, provide residents with an improved quality of life, whether it’s remote work, education or healthcare, and better access to entertainment options,” he said.
Jo-Carroll Energy is a non-profit distribution cooperative established in 1939 and based in Elizabeth. Sand Prairie’s broadband division was established in 2008. According to the company’s Facebook page, it celebrated the addition of its 3,000th fiber internet customer on September 8.
Mike Casper, President and CEO of Jo-Carroll Energy, said, “We look forward to working with the county to accelerate the delivery of high-speed fiber optic Internet service to homes, businesses and communities in Whiteside County.
Jo-Carroll Energy will apply for matching grants for the Whiteside County project.
The absence of reliable and affordable broadband has been evident for some time. During the COVID-19 shutdown, the impact was amplified.
County Treasurer Penny VanKampen said reliable internet will have an immediate effect on families, including hers, who have school-aged children.
“It was really a problem with remote learning during the pandemic,” she said.
Gary Camarano, director of the county’s economic development department, said the project, when complete, will address those gaps in digital communications.
Camarano said it will allow the county “to compete in a new digital economy that allows more and more Illinois people to work, live, learn and recreate wherever they want.”
An 18-member committee met for 14 weeks to discuss connectivity goals, methods and best practices. He researched internet service providers and provided recommendations.
Accelerate Illinois—a cooperative effort of the Illinois Office of Broadband, the University of Illinois Extension, and the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society—were all county planning partners.
Whiteside County Economic Development said the biggest barrier to getting broadband was that for-profit providers didn’t see the market as economically viable, leaving rural communities in northwestern Illinois largely struggling. served.
The result will be the equitable deployment of a reliable fiber broadband network throughout the county, the availability of broadband access to the entire county, and a response to the broadband inequities that currently exist in the county. .
The next step for the county and Sand Prairie is to conduct engineering studies and submit grant applications. Installation could take up to five years.