Local groups to pursue stimulus money for broadband network

CHAMPAIGN – A potential local consortium led by the University of Illinois appears ready to pursue economic stimulus grant funding to construct a "big broadband" network along the Bradley Avenue corridor in Champaign and Urbana to bring advanced broadband service to residents.

The economic stimulus bill signed by President Obama Tuesday includes $7 billion in funding to improve bandwidth and the availability of broadband service in underserved areas.

What is proposed is called big broadband, which will deliver many times more bandwidth than what is available today from cable and telephone lines. The infrastructure would be publicly owned and operated in the public interest.

Fred Halenar, the city of Champaign's information technologies director, said it appears a grant of at least $5 million to $7 million would be sought. A local match of 20 percent would be needed, he said.

The local effort is being led by Michael Smeltzer, director of networking with the UI's Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services. A meeting on the proposal was held Tuesday at the I-Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign.

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