Champaign council to have say before final vote in Urbana on broadband grant

URBANA – Officials in Urbana Monday were anxious to hear whether council members across Wright Street in Champaign will accept a $22.5 million federal grant to build a Big Broadband fiber optic Internet network.

The National Telecommunications and Information Agency awarded the grant for the below-ground fiber optic network to a consortium consisting of Champaign, Urbana and the University of Illinois.

Mike Monson, chief of staff for Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing, said Urbana will have a special meeting Monday to decide whether to accept the grant. Meanwhile, the Champaign council is scheduled to discuss the project and vote on acceptance Tuesday.

The grant requires local matching money. The state has agreed to give a grant of $3.5 million toward local matching for the infrastructure project.

Mike Smeltzer, director of network computing at the University of Illinois, told Urbana council members Monday that contracts from the federal agency are expected to be received today. He said the deadline for accepting the grant will be April 1.

Asked by Urbana officials what their liability would be if Champaign did not accept the grant, Smeltzer said he expects Champaign will have five votes -- a majority -- in favor of accepting the grant.

If Champaign chooses not to invest in the infrastructure, the other local partners would have to come up with Champaign's local match, Smeltzer said.

Champaign's share is $498,000; the UI's $511,000 and Urbana's $298,000. Also contributing to the local match would be the Champaign Telephone Company, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District and Lincoln Trails Libraries.

Meanwhile, local officials were also working the past week to complete round-two grant applications for public computer centers and sustainability.

Urbana Alderman Brandon Bowersox, D-4, said, "It has been a whirlwind process and I'm optimistic that we are giving C-U a chance to win above-ground funding."

"The training and outreach components are critical for making sure the wires in the ground make a meaningful difference in people's lives and provide access and job opportunities," Bowersox said.

Prussing said after the meeting that she is interested in a project by Internet giant Google to pay for a demonstration for communitywide high-speed Internet.

"I am interested in getting this to every home in Urbana," the mayor said.

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