Lake County aims to improve internet access and speeds for over 250,000 'underserved' residents

Lake County aims to improve internet access and speeds for over 250,000 ‘underserved’ residents

According to the Federal Communications Commission, more than 250,000 Lake County residents are considered “underserved” by home internet capabilities, which caught the attention of Lake County council members at the start of the new term. .

Jennifer Clark, member of District 15, D-Libertyville, first noticed what she calls a “widespread lack of high-speed internet access in our community” during the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 , when many of his Lake County students at Carthage College struggled to complete assignments and take classes remotely due to internet capabilities that didn’t match the software.

Now, Clark will chair the County Council’s Select Broadband Committee, formed to review current speeds in Lake County and plan how the county can help improve access, affordability and capacity. use the Internet for residents in the coming decades.

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

A map released Friday by Lake County’s Geographic Information System/Mapping Division shows nearly all municipalities and many unincorporated areas in Lake County — from parts of Antioch to the northwest corner from the county to Beach Park in the northeast, and then down to the southern regions in Hawthorn Woods, Lake Forest and other towns – are underserved or even unserved.

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

Committee Vice Chair Carissa Casbon, a member of District 7, D-Gurnee, has also been emphasizing high-speed internet access for county residents in recent months.

At a finance and administration committee meeting in September, Casbon advocated for the county council to help a group of residents of the Hunt Club Farms subdivision in Warren Township who have been unable to obtain high-speed internet access. without paying the internet service provider Comcast about $400,000. to set up the service.

Although sympathetic to the subdivision’s issues, the committee members determined that they lacked the clout to negotiate a connection to the subdivision in the new 10-year franchise agreement that was before the committee for approval.

Casbon said the subdivision’s predicament prompted her to research what internet service providers are offering coverage and that there are far more areas without high-speed internet capabilities than she does. didn’t think so.

Clark alluded on Friday to the county council needing to invest funds in conducting accurate research and developing a long-term plan for high-speed internet, and said she believed the use of “A tranche of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act would be crucial in ensuring the county is eligible for grants that could be used to help make significant investments.

High-speed internet quality and availability has also been a growing priority for the federal government, which enacted the bipartisan Infrastructure Act in 2021 and allocated $65 billion to invest in expanding access. High-speed Internet in parts of the country, including Illinois.

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

Initially, it seems that the will is present within the commission and the other members of the county council.

The committee voted to release 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 trusted the staff and committee to plan improvements because “the passion is there for it”.

Mary Ross Cunningham, D-Waukegan, Member of District 9, thanked Clark and Casbon for mobilizing the council to proactively improve high-speed internet service throughout the county after noticing issues.

“You have everything for Lake County … and I thank you for that and I will support you,” Cunningham said.

Casbon is set to continue his research and present his findings this spring on the state of internet accessibility and connectivity resources available to residents of his district and Lake County.

The committee includes a pair of Republicans in District 2 member Adam Schlick of Wauconda and District 5 member Kevin Hunter of Ingleside.

Schlick asked about possible funding mechanisms to fund counseling services, and Deputy County Administrator Matt Meyers said staff found they could use some funds allocated by the American Rescue Plan Act. .

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

“With our schools and our children, as an uncle of four nieces, they are blessed with high-speed internet,” Campos said. “But a lot of members in my district, their kids don’t.”

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