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'Information superhighway' in DeKalb County

Published: Friday, Feb. 19, 2010 12:20 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Feb. 19, 2010 6:13 p.m. CST
Caption
(Rob Winner – rwinner@daily-chronicle.com)
Gov. Pat Quinn (from left) stands Friday with Lawrence Strickling while announcing that more than $13 million to improve broadband access in northern Illinois will be coming to the county. The news conference was held at the DeKalb County Farm Bureau in Sycamore.

SYCAMORE – DeKalb County will receive a little over $13 million in state and federal funds to expand high-speed Internet access in the area.

Gov. Pat Quinn announced the awards – $11.9 million from the federal stimulus package and $1.3 million from a state jobs-creation legislation – Friday afternoon at the DeKalb County Farm Bureau building in Sycamore.

The project is a public-private partnership and will connect 130 miles of fiber-optic cable from north to south in DeKalb County, along with a small portion dipping into western Kane County and northern La Salle County.

In his announcement to about 100 people – many of whom were part of the planning process or will benefit from the expansion – Quinn compared the development of broadband Internet to that of the Interstate highway system developed in the 1950s.

"Half a century later, we have to deal with the information superhighway system right here in 2010," Quinn said.

At the time that the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was signed, "investing in broadband and Internet and making sure that we have an information superhighway that's accessible and fast, affordable, those are the things that are indispensable to the economic recovery of Illinois and to every state in our country," Quinn said.

Quinn was joined on stage by 15 local, state and federal dignitaries, along with developers of the project.

Larry Strickling, the U.S. Department of Commerce assistant secretary for communications and information, explained how the DeKalb County project was funded from the $7 billion in stimulus money appropriated for high-speed Internet access.

He said he liked the project because it was comprehensive, it partners with private businesses and because the concept is already being looked at in other underserved areas of the state.

"This project can serve as a model for the rest of the state, as well as the rest of the country," Strickling said.

Seventy-five percent of the county is underserved for high-speed Internet access, Strickling said. The 130-mile fiber network will provide high-speed connections – 100 to 1,000 times faster than available in the county now – to about 60 anchor institutions, including schools, hospitals, libraries, public safety entities, and government agencies.

The network is expected to create 20-30 construction jobs over the next few years, as well as adding technical jobs in the DeKalb area to support it, according to officials.

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Batavia, noted that the payouts won't be seen immediately.

"Projects like the one we're announcing today are not only going to provide jobs in the short term, but are going to lay the foundation for long-term economic growth," Foster said.

Officials who spoke at Friday's news conference stressed the educational and employment benefits an enlarged system will provide.

"What we don't know is how the students of today will log on and find access around the world to new ideas and new things new ways of looking at things," DeKalb County Board chairwoman Ruth Anne Tobias said. "... We don't know what will happen with that information, and so that's what we have to hope for."

As the recipient of the funds, DeKalb County will administer the project, known as the DeKalb Advancement of Technology Authority, or DATA. Northern Illinois University will design the infrastructure and network, and DeKalb Fiber Optics LLC will maintain the fiber cable and provide services over the infrastructure.

The ideas that evolved into the DATA project were formed a few years ago with conversations Herb Kuryliw, NIU network and technology architect, had with school officials.

"We were hearing the sad stores about teachers that have creative minds that have to be shut down because they can't use the Internet for video services" because doing so would create a bottleneck on the server, Kuryliw said. "We thought, that's wrong, we need to fix that."

Stories from doctors, farmers, librarians, business owners and the like made the early planners realize just how big the project could go.

"We'll be able to put all these anchor institutions onto the network at a very low cost," Kuryliw said.

In addition to the $13 million in state and federal funds, DeKalb Fiber Optic, a DeKalb-based Internet service provider, is contributing $1.3 million in cash and resources; NIU donated $150,000, Kishwaukee Community Hospital contributed $100,000 and DeKalb County gave $75,000, according to officials.

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