CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign and Urbana city councils are scheduled to meet jointly this week to review the transfer of Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband assets to a nonprofit agency they expect will run the high-speed Internet network for the foreseeable future.
The transfer would essentially put $30 million worth of fiber infrastructure and what has until now been a government-run Internet service provider into the hands of a private agency. That nonprofit agency would be operated independently of the cities but controlled by three government agencies — Champaign, Urbana and the University of Illinois.
The joint session of the Champaign and Urbana city councils is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St.
The cities and the UI have been planning, building and operating the high-speed Internet network since 2009, when they applied for the federal grant that paid for most of the project. The plan in recent years has been to transfer that network and its management to a separate agency once it was up and running, and city officials are hoping to begin that process in August.
The transition of the network — and its assets and liabilities — from a government group to a nonprofit could take up to six months. The federal grant expires at the end of September, so city officials hope to have the necessary federal approval by that date, according to city documents.
The cities to this point have been paying for the network with the remaining funds from the federal grant, but local tax dollars would take over the burden if any work is left undone by the date the grant expires on Sept. 30.
According to city documents, officials plan to set up a 501(c)(4) nonprofit entity to control and operate the Internet network. A nine-member board of directors would be assembled to oversee the agency, with three members appointed from each city and the university.
"Although most of the bylaws provisions are fairly standard for not-for-profit corporations," according to city documents, "they do provide for more transparency than typical by indicating that Board meetings generally should be open to the public."
City officials have said the new Internet provider should operate like a business, with its expenses covered by its operating revenues instead of public subsidy.
They have also said that creating a singular entity to control the network — instead of a more abstract consortium of government agencies — will make it easier to negotiate with other private companies.
To this point, the Internet service has only been available in select areas of Champaign-Urbana, where the federal grant paid for construction in underserved areas. City officials hope to build that network out to the rest of the community, and they have already requested proposals from private companies looking to share in the construction and some of the operation of the fiber network.
The cities have said creating a nonprofit agency to control the network should make it easier to build out to the rest of the city's neighborhoods, where the service is not yet available.