(WSIL) -- Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Wednesday announced the first cohort of grant recipients as part of the Office of Broadband Regional Engagement for Adoption + Digital Equity (READY) program.
Through this first of its kind program, $200,000 has been awarded to four regional entities to accelerate progress toward eliminating the digital divide.
The goal is to increase access, adoption and utilization of high-speed internet access.
The initial cohort of READY grantees includes awards of $50,000 for the following entities:
• Eastern Illinois University on behalf of the Southeastern Region
• Region 1 Planning Council on behalf of the Northern Stateline Region
• Southern Illinois University on behalf of the Southern Region
• University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign on behalf of the East Central Region
READY grantees may use funds to expand immediate broadband connectivity, conduct outreach and engagement to identify current digital inequities, and establish next steps toward creating a digital inclusion ecosystem through regional collaboration among institutions of higher education, planning councils, community and economic development organizations, schools, libraries, healthcare, and local leaders and other related stakeholders.
“The SAFHIRE team from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale is excited to be part of the Broadband READY initiative by DCEO. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the importance of broadband access for all,” said Koushik Sinha, Assistant Professor, School of Computing at Southern Illinois University. “This is a unique and timely opportunity for us to make a meaningful impact in our local community, particularly among the minority and economically-challenged sections of society. By working closely with experts and community leaders, our goal is to establish a replicable template for addressing digital inequality in southern Illinois, and in other rural and semi-urban regions of the state.”
To further these efforts across all ten economic development regions of the state, the Office of Broadband is launching the next READY notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) today, with another $250,000 available for grants.
“High-speed internet is an essential resource for Illinois communities to succeed in the 21st century economy and this administration is laser-focused on expanding access across the state,” said Governor Pritzker. “With more than 1 million households currently without reliable internet – the state is dedicating $420 million to enhance our broadband infrastructure. The READY grant program will help put the power of planning directly into the hands of our communities and complements our historic efforts to bring enhanced speed and access to every community in Illinois.”
The initial READY grantees will be completing much of their initial work in fall 2021, with the second cohort following suit in spring 2022.
The second round of READY grants are now available, with a deadline of October 4, 2021, to apply. For more information on eligibility criteria, or application assistance visit the Illinois Office of Broadband website https://www2.illinois.gov/dceo/ConnectIllinois/Pages/default.aspx .