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Grants aim to improve rural broadband internet in Southern Illinois

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WILLIAMSON COUNTY (WSIL) -- Slow internet speeds are making remote learning a struggle for SIU-C student Matthew Claar.

"I get so frustrated... trying to watch the video," Claar said. "I'll just close everything down and do my best to do the assignment with a fraction of the information."

The Spillertown resident says his internet speed peaks at 4 Mbps, far below the average speed of 25 Mbps that he's paying for now. It's interrupting coursework for him and his two sons.

"They're probably doing schoolwork 12 to 18 hours a day some days," Claar said. "It takes that long for them to connect to the internet or to get things to upload."

But that problem could be fixed soon. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, awarded $20 million to the Hamilton County Telephone Co-op. The co-op also received a $20 million loan.

General manager Kevin Pyle says they'll use the money to install fiber cables across rural communities. It's part of a second round of grants and loans from the Reconnect Program.

"[The program] was meant more just for those areas that people have been kind of left behind," Pyle said.

The service areas include 7,942 households, 16 educational facilities and 12 essential community facilities, according to the USDA's website.

Pyle says the new infrastructure has the potential to provide minimum speeds of 50 Mbps. But, he adds, that's only the start of expanding access to these communities.

"I think it's going to extend beyond fiber," Pyle said. "This is a great place to get started because our country is about 10 years behind other countries."

More than a dozen rural communities in Franklin, Jefferson, Saline, White, and Williamson counties can expect to see improved internet speeds soon.

Those communities include Whiteash, Spillertown, Pittsburg, Paulton, Crab Orchard, Raleigh, Brownsville, Colony West and others.

Danny Valle

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