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

According to the Federal Communications Commission, 250,000 Lake County residents are considered “underserved” by Internet capabilities in their homes, which caught the attention of members of the Lake County Board at the start of the new term.

District 15 Rep. Jennifer Clark, D-Libertyville, was the first to notice what she calls “a widespread lack of high-speed Internet access in our community” at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, with many of her Lake County-based students. He struggled to complete assignments and participate in remote instruction at Carthage College because of Internet capabilities that did not match the software.

Now, Clark will chair the County Board’s Special Committee on Broadband, which was formed to examine current speeds in Lake County and plan how the county can help improve residents’ access, affordability and ability to use the Internet in the coming decades.

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

A map released Friday from the Lake County Geographic Information System/Mapping Division shows nearly every municipality and several unincorporated areas of Lake County — from parts of Antioch in the county’s northwest corner to Beach Park in the northeast and then south to Hawthorne, Woods, Lake Forest and other towns — without service. or those that are not.

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The map shows that 262,004 people in more than 104,000 homes and businesses are short, and more than 4,000 people in more than 1,500 homes and businesses are without service. 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.

The committee’s vice chair, District 7 member Carissa Casbon, D-Gurnee, has made high-speed Internet access available to county residents in recent months.

At the Finance and Administrative Committee meeting in September, Casbon petitioned the County Board to help a group of residents from the Hunt Club Farms subdivision in Warren Township. To set up the service.

While sympathetic to the subdivision’s problems, committee members decided they did not have enough leverage to bind the subdivision to a new 10-year franchise agreement for committee approval.

Casbon said the subdivision’s plight prompted him to research the coverage Internet service providers offer and how there are many areas without high-speed Internet capabilities than he realized.

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Clark indicated to the County Board on Friday that some funds need to be invested in doing thorough research and creating a long-term plan for high-speed Internet, and said he thinks using a portion of the American Rescue Plan Act is critical to ensuring the county. Eligible for grants that can be used to help make large scale investments.

The quality and availability of high-speed Internet is a growing focus for the federal government, which enacted the bipartisan Infrastructure Act in 2021 and allocated $65 billion to invest in expanding high-speed Internet access in areas across the country, including Illinois.

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

For starters, the commission and other county board members seem to have the will.

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

County Board Chair Sandy Hart called the committee’s work “crucial” and said she has confidence in staff and the committee to plan for improvements because “there’s a passion for this.”

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District 9 member Mary Rose Cunningham, D-Waukegan, thanked Clark and Casbon for rallying the board to proactively improve high-speed Internet service across the county after problems were noticed.

“You guys have it going for Lake County … I applaud you for that and I’ll support you,” Cunningham said.

Casbon is set to continue his research and present findings this spring about Internet accessibility and connectivity resources to people in his district and Lake County.

The committee features a pair of Republicans, District 2 Rep. Adam Schlick of Wauconda and District 5 Rep. Kevin Hunter of Ingleside.

Schlick asked what the funding mechanisms would be to fund the consulting services, and Assistant County Administrator Matt Meyers said staff found they could use some funds allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act.

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

“Along with our schools and children, as the uncle of four nieces and nephews, they are fortunate to have high-speed Internet,” Campos said. “But most members of my district don’t have their kids like that.”


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