Focus on Big Broadband is 2013 deadline, then expansion of network

CHAMPAIGN – Big Broadband organizers Tuesday night updated the city council on plans for implementing a nearly $30 million infrastructure for high-speed Internet in underserved areas of Champaign-Urbana.

Members of two intergovernmental committees elaborated on the benefits that a community-wide network would provide and the feasibility of expanding the infrastructure to the general community in the future.

The plan that was presented to the federal government in order to receive a $22.5 million grant earlier this year detailed how local officials would hook up 11 underserved census blocks – areas where 60 percent or more residents are without high-speed Internet – and at least 137 community buildings to the Internet.

"There's nothing in the design of this network that prevents us from expanding it in the future," said Fred Halenar, Champaign's information technologies director.

Officials now are focusing on getting the network running for the underserved areas by the 2013 federal deadline. Once that is completed, Halenar said, then organizers can start tackling how to expand the network to the rest of Champaign-Urbana – and maybe even beyond those borders.

But to do so, there are still questions that need to be answered.

"If it cost (more than) $29 million to hook up 11 census blocks, how much is it going to cost to hook up the rest of Champaign-Urbana?" Halenar said.

Mike Smeltzer, director of networking for Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services at the UI, gave examples of how the local area network could serve the community. Besides Internet access for underserved areas, Parkland College or Champaign school students at home doing homework that requires access to the school's network could get that access at incredible speeds, as if they were sitting in the building.

Officials now are awaiting a green light from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which is completing an assessment of how construction would affect the environment. Halenar said no major issues have come up during that assessment.

In other business, city council members OK'd a proposal to seek a state grant to upgrade Windsor Road between Duncan and Staley roads with "complete street" options – bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

The one-mile stretch includes a bridge over Interstate 57, one of four Champaign bridges the Illinois Department of Transportation would like to improve, said City Engineer Roland White. The other three are overpasses on Kirby, Mattis and Bradley avenues.

White said city officials still need to come to an agreement with the state on how the project would be funded between the two entities, but construction could begin in 2016.

"Once you come to the (Windsor Road) bridge, it's very auto oriented," said city planner Zeba Aziz. "It doesn't have either bikeways or sidewalks."

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cretis16 wrote on August 11, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Why dont we just buy every one in the affected area a laptop....much cheaper than this wasteful 30 million dollar expense.