Champaign council accepts Big Broadband grant

Updated at 9 p.m. CHAMPAIGN -- Look out, Comcast. The city of Champaign says it's ready to get into the broadband business.

In an anticipated vote, the Champaign City Council voted 7-1 to accept a $22.5 million federal grant to lay the infrastructure for a high-speed Internet network. The only dissenting vote came from Mayor Jerry Schweighart.

The next move in the acceptance of the Big Broadband proposal will come from the Urbana city council after they make a decision whether or not they are willing to accept the same grant.

Tuesday night's vote in Champaign commits the city to contribute a total $688,000 to the project, part of which is local matching funds to the grant and another portion to upgrade Champaign's own network equipment.

"When you look at all the benefits of the grant, I'd say the benefits far outweigh the costs or risks of the grant," Maryland consultant Doug Dawson told the council via telephone.

The following was posted at 1 p.m. Tuesday:

CHAMPAIGN — Though he will not be physically present, Maryland broadband consultant Doug Dawson said he will still be available during tonight's city council meeting to address any questions members have about the pending Big Broadband proposal.

Dawson said via telephone Tuesday afternoon that he had some "personal issues" and could not get on an airplane to travel to Champaign for Tuesday night's meeting.

"We'll kind of do it like CNN," said Information Technologies Director Fred Halenar, referring to the format the cable network uses when they interview someone via telephone.

"We’re trying to get everything set up now for a teleconference so Doug (Dawson) can at least get online here with the council," Halenar said.

This is the fourth time Dawson was scheduled to meet with the council. The first three were canceled either for illness or scheduling conflicts.

"I'll still be talking to them this evening," Dawson said.

Tonight is the last regularly scheduled opportunity the council has to vote on a $22.5 million federal grant before the April 1 deadline for acceptance lapses. The award was announced on March 2 and would provide federal money to lay the infrastructure for a high-speed Internet network.

Dawson will recommend that the city accept the grant, saying that the benefits of the network outweigh the costs. But several council members have told The News-Gazette in recent weeks that they are concerned about the initial and long-term costs of the network.

Some of those council members have said their votes depend on tonight's discussion with Dawson.

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Jsmith68 wrote on March 17, 2010 at 4:03 am

Wait...........what is that I hear..............Tom Bruno voted to take Federal money???? Yikes!!!

Alan Singleton wrote on March 17, 2010 at 11:03 am
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This is a good thing for the community. Historically, rivers spurred economic development, followed by railroads, then interstate hightways. High speed internet is a key to positive economic growth in our community at this point. Our community should also be rallying to be one of the Google sites.