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USDA Recovery Act Funding Buoys Broadband Expectations for Rural Illinois

USDA Rural Development’s Illinois State Director Colleen Callahan along with Gov. Pat Quinn, Gibson City  contractor Mike Sizemore, and school technology director Terry Sullivan talk about the benefit of high-speed Internet coming to 11 rural Illinois counties thanks to  a Recovery Act Broadband award.

USDA Rural Development’s Illinois State Director Colleen Callahan along with Gov. Pat Quinn, Gibson City contractor Mike Sizemore, and school technology director Terry Sullivan talk about the benefit of high-speed Internet coming to 11 rural Illinois counties thanks to a Recovery Act Broadband award.

The excitement was readily apparent when Rural Development Illinois State Director Colleen Callahan and Governor Pat Quinn announced Aug. 31 that 66,000 Cellular One customers in 11 east central Illinois counties would be getting high speed Internet service. 

Cellular Properties CEO/GM Cassy Carter said the company would not be able to provide the high-speed service without the award made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  Thanks to this funding, she said they will be bringing one of the best wireless broadband networks in the country to an area that has minimal or no high speed Internet service.

We celebrated the Rural Development broadband announcement at the Cellular One store in Danville’s Village Mall with two members of the state senate and scores of others.  Heads nodded in agreement as guests spoke of the benefit broadband will have for rural businesses, schools, health and public safety services, and community and economic development. Terry Sullivan, technology director for a rural school system served by Cellular One, attested to the value of broadband access, saying it will put rural schools on equal footing with larger schools. 

State Director Callahan said that seven Illinois projects have been funded through Rural Development’s Broadband Initiative Program in the last two months, affecting tens of thousands of rural Illinois residents.  She told the crowd that USDA is transforming rural America today by providing access to high speed Internet in the same way it transformed the rural landscape with telephone and electric service.

Better access to information and improved services are only part of the good news.  Broadband will mean jobs, imminently and down the road.  Mark Sizemore is a local contractor with 30 employees who build telecom towers.  He told me what broadband expansion in this area will mean for his employees and for many others.  

Cellular Properties, a privately owned and locally operated company, is providing an additional $11.2 million of private funding for the project.  The State of Illinois also pledged $1 million to the project through the Illinois Jobs Now! public works program.

At the close of the celebration, people left in high spirits.  Everyone was united by their hope for the economic future of the area and the spirit of cooperation that made this project happen. USDA is announcing additional broadband awards between now and the end of the 2010 fiscal year. For information about an announcement made yesterday click here.

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