According to a new report presented to the Sangamon County Board, roughly 5,000 Sangamon County homes lack reliable home internet access. The study, which surveyed Sangamon County residents, revealed that 7% of households in the county do not have any home broadband at all, and 29% lack workable cell coverage at home.
The report highlights the many benefits of improved broadband, including the ability to work from home, complete schoolwork and homework, access telemedicine services, increase home values and property taxes, and create new housing opportunities and rural businesses. The study also found that 70% of respondents have somebody working at home at least part-time, and 38% would work from home more often with better broadband.
Additionally, the study conducted business surveys and interviews, which found that slow broadband during the daytime, occasional multi-day outages, and regular shorter outages were the most common issues reported. Most farmers use fixed wireless, but this technology is no longer sufficient for their requirements.
To address these issues, the Sangamon County Board could allocate seed funding from federal COVID funds to the Springfield Sangamon Growth Alliance and private companies to improve service. Additionally, Congress has passed an infrastructure bill that includes over $42.5 billion for broadband funding, with Illinois expected to receive over $1 billion. The State of Illinois will also have several rounds of state broadband grants in the near future.
“We have such a large rural population with such a long distance between users that it becomes unprofitable for private businesses to provide service to everyone,” said County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter. “We are committed to collaborating with our partners to construct the infrastructure required to improve this essential service and we are evaluating all available funding options. With the use of federal covid money available to the County, combined with federal grants, businesses will be encouraged to provide broadband to more remote areas.”
The study and its findings will be used to inform the County's efforts to improve broadband access and bridge the digital divide in Sangamon County.