Lake County aims to improve internet access and speed for more than 250,000 ‘underserved’ residents – Chicago Tribune

More than 250,000 Lake County residents are considered “underserved” with Internet access at home, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which drew the attention of Lake County Board members early in the new term.

District 15 Rep. Jennifer Clark, D-Libertyville, first noticed what many of her students living in Lake County called “a widespread lack of high-speed Internet access in our community” in 2020 during the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. At Carthage College, they had difficulty completing assignments and studying remotely due to internet capabilities that were not compatible with their software.

Clark will now chair the County Council’s Broadband Special Committee, which was created to examine current speeds in Lake County and plan how the county can help improve Internet access, affordability and usability for residents in the coming decades.

“The goal here is, if we do it right, we’re setting up Lake County to have a strong technology infrastructure for the next 30 years,” Clark said. “That’s the goal, and it will allow us to be productive, competitive and allow residents to thrive.”

A map released Friday from the Lake County Geographic Information System/Mapping Division shows nearly every municipality in Lake County and many unincorporated areas — from parts of Antioch in the northwest corner of the county to Beach Park in the northeast, then Hawthorn. to the southern areas Forests, Lake Forest and other cities – with little or no service.

The map shows that approximately 262,004 people are underserved in more than 104,000 households and businesses, and more than 4,000 people are underserved in more than 1,500 households and businesses. According to FCC standards, underserved connections are speeds below 100/20 megabits per second, while unserved connection speeds are equivalent to coverage below 25/3 megabits per second.

Committee Vice Chairwoman Carissa Casbon, D-Gurnee, 7th District, has also focused on high-speed Internet access for county residents in recent months.

During a Finance and Administration Committee meeting in September, Casbon asked the County Executive to help a group of residents from the Hunt Club Farms subdivision in Warren Township who could not get high-speed Internet without paying an estimated $400,000 to Internet provider Comcast. to set up the service.

While committee members were sympathetic to the division’s concerns, they determined they lacked the leverage to engage the division with a new, 10-year franchise agreement pending committee approval.

Casbon said the division’s predicament prompted him to research coverage offered by Internet service providers and areas without high-speed Internet access.

Clark reminded the County Council on Friday of the need to invest some funds in order to conduct a thorough study of high-speed Internet and develop a long-term plan, and said he thinks using some of the funding from the American Rescue Plan Act will be critical to the county’s security. eligible for grants that can be used to make extensive investments.

The quality and availability of high-speed internet has been a growing focus for the federal government, which passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act of 2021 and committed $65 billion to invest in expanding high-speed internet access across the country, including in Illinois.

“We’re going to have to spend money to access all these other grant opportunities,” Clark said. “There are more grant opportunities than are on offer, we didn’t want to overwhelm everyone today.”

At first, it appears that this will is within the commission and other County Board members.

The committee voted to issue a request for proposal for broadband consulting services in Lake County and will meet again in early February.

County Board Chair Sandy Hart called the committee’s work “critical” and said she believes in staff and the committee planning improvements because “the passion is there.”

District 9 Rep. Mary Ross Cunningham, D-Waukegan, thanked Clark and Casbon for mobilizing the board to proactively improve high-speed Internet service throughout the county after seeing problems.

“You have a job to do for Lake County … and for that I thank you and I will support you,” Cunningham said.

Casbon will continue to research and then prepare to release findings this spring about the state of internet accessibility and connectivity resources available to people in his district and surrounding Lake County.

The committee includes District 2 Republicans Adam Schlick of Wauconda and District 5 Rep. Kevin Hunter of Ingleside.

Schlick asked what financial mechanisms could be in place to fund counseling services, and assistant county administrator Matt Meyers said staff found they could use some funds from the America’s Rescue Plan Act.

Other Democrats on the committee are 16th District Rep. Esiah Campos of Round Lake Beach, 4th District Rep. Gina Roberts of Beach Park and Angelo Kyle of North Chicago.

“Our schools and our children are lucky enough to have high-speed Internet, just like the uncle of his four nieces,” Campos said. “But most of the members in my district, their kids don’t.”

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