by Joe King
The average smart phone that many people carry in their pockets provides better, faster Internet service than is available at many schools in DeKalb County.
A consortium comprised of DeKalb County, NIU and DeKalb Fiber Optic, working together under the banner of the DeKalb Advancement of Technology Authority, announced Friday that they will be running fiber optic cables to every school in the county to deliver cutting edge Internet technology. Most schools will see their Internet speed increase 1,000 fold, and for most it will come at a lower price than their current service.
The consortium will use nearly $12 million in federal grant money, as well as some state and local money for the project. The total investment will be about $15 million.
“This has been a wonderful partnership,” said DeKalb County Board President Ruth Anne Tobias. “So many parties worked so hard to make it happen that it is very gratifying to see it come to fruition. We are very grateful to the U.S. Department of Commerce, to Gov. Quinn and the legislature, and to all of our local funders for making this possible.”
The majority of the money (an $11.8 million grant) comes from the economic stimulus bill passed last fall (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act). The grant is administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is a branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce. That agency’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program is spending about $4.7 billion to deploy broadband infrastructure into un-served or underserved areas of the country.
Another $1.3 million is being provided by the State of Illinois, with DeKalb-based Internet service provider DeKalb Fiber Optic also contributing $1.3 million in cash, services and materials. Other contributors include: NIU - $150,000; Kishwaukee Community Hospital - $100,000; and DeKalb County - $75,000.
Once the fiber optic lines are connected, the only limitations that DeKalb County schools will face regarding Internet speed will be what technology is available and how much they are willing to spend to buy it.
Currently at many schools in DeKalb County, slow Internet connections prohibit creative teachers from accessing resources to teach their students. Teachers are sometimes told to stop using Internet video or educational services because doing so creates a bottleneck that prohibits anyone else from using the Internet.
The new fiber optic network also will allow DeKalb County schools to obtain speeds a thousand times faster with the ability to upgrade to even faster speeds as needed. It also will allow them to work together over an ultra-high speed network and share technical resources, video and educational services, and reducing costs.
Tobias said that improved broadband capacity has been a goal in the county for years.
“It is such an important part of today’s economy and it just has not been widely available in the more rural parts of the county. Having this in place will create tremendous opportunities in many areas.”
Among those likely to benefit are:
“This changes the whole concept of what broadband means for this region,” said Dan Halverson, vice president of DeKalb Fiber Optic, explaining that the new fiber will be capable of speeds 100 to 1,000 times faster than available in the county now. “That will make DeKalb County much more competitive in the global economy, it will raise our profile and it will increase our tax base.”
NIU President John Peters shared the excitement over the educational and economic ramifications of the project.
“This collaboration is a proud moment for the university,” he said. “When we began building our own fiber optic network, NIUNet, just six years ago, something like this seemed a distant dream. Since then, our Information Technology Services group has built a name for itself finding creative, collaborative solutions that make projects like this possible. I couldn’t be more delighted today to see those efforts paying dividends in our own backyard. This is an example of NIU pointing to the future and thanks in part to this project, it is a very bright future indeed.”
Under the proposal, NIU will provide infrastructure design, network design and sustainability for the DATA network; DeKalb Fiber Optics LLC will maintain the fiber cable and provide services over the fiber infrastructure; those activities will be carried out under an agreement with DeKalb County, which will administer the project.
DATA will bring broadband to:
42 K-12 Schools
(Most DeKalb and Sycamore schools are already connected)
20 County Sites (including E-911 services)
68 Library Locations
Northern Illinois University
More than 3,600 Businesses (potentially)
82,500 County Residents (potentially)