More than 250,000 Lake County residents are considered “underserved” by the Internet capabilities in their homes, according to the Federal Communications Commission, something that caught the attention of Lake County Board members early in the new term.
District 15 member Jennifer Clark, D-Libertyville, first noticed what she calls a “pervasive lack of high-speed internet access in our community” during the start of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, when many of his Lake County students at Carthage College were having difficulty completing assignments and attending remote instruction due to mismatched internet capabilities with the software.
Now, Clark will chair the County Board’s Broadband Task Force, formed to examine current speeds in Lake County and plan how the county can help improve Internet access, affordability, and usability for residents. residents for decades to come.
“The goal here, if we get this right, we’re setting up Lake County to have a strong technology infrastructure for the next 30 years,” Clark said. “This is the goal, and it will allow us to be productive, competitive, and residents to prosper.”
A map released Friday by Lake County’s Geographic Information System/Mapping Division shows nearly all of Lake County’s municipalities and many unincorporated areas, from parts of Antioch in the county’s northwest corner to Beach Park in the northeast, then as far south as areas in Hawthorn Woods, Lake Forest, and other cities are underserved or even underserved.
The map shows that approximately 262,004 people in more than 104,000 homes and businesses are unserved, and more than 4,000 people in more than 1,500 homes and businesses are unserved. According to FCC standards, unattended connections have speeds less than 100/20 megabits per second, while unattended connection speeds equate to coverage less than 25/3 megabits per second.
Committee vice chair District 7 member Carissa Casbon, D-Gurnee, has also focused on high-speed Internet access for county residents in recent months.
During a September Finance and Administration Committee meeting, Casbon asked the County Board to help a group of residents of the Hunt Club Farms subdivision in Warren Township who couldn’t get high-speed Internet access without paying the service provider. Comcast Internet services an estimated $400,000. to configure the service.
Although sympathetic to the subdivision’s problems, committee members determined that they did not have the clout to negotiate a connection to the subdivision in the new 10-year franchise agreement that was before the committee for approval.
Casbon said the situation in the subdivision led her to investigate the coverage offered by Internet service providers and how there are many more areas without high-speed Internet capabilities than she thought.
Alluding to the County Board Friday that he needs to invest some funds to do accurate research and come up with a long-term plan on high-speed Internet, Clark said he thinks using a portion of the funds from the Rescue Plan Act American will be crucial to ensure the county is eligible for grants that could be used to help make sweeping investments.
High-speed Internet quality and availability has also been a growing focus for the federal government, which enacted the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act in 2021 and allocated $65 billion to invest in expanding high-speed Internet access in areas across the country, including Illinois.
“We’re going to have to spend money to access all these other grant opportunities,” Clark said. “There are more grant opportunities (than at the presentation), we didn’t want to overwhelm everyone today.”
At first, it appears that the will is present within the commission and other members of the County Board.
The committee voted to issue a request for proposal for broadband consulting services in Lake County and will meet again in early February.
Borough Board President Sandy Hart called the committee’s work “critical” and said she has confidence in the staff and committee to plan improvements because “there’s a passion for this.”
District 9 member Mary Ross Cunningham, D-Waukegan, thanked Clark and Casbon for mobilizing the board to proactively improve high-speed internet service throughout the county after noticing issues.
“You’ve got it going for Lake County … and I thank you for that and I’ll support you,” Cunningham said.
Casbon will continue to research and then present his findings this spring on the state of Internet accessibility and connectivity resources available to people in his district and throughout Lake County.
The committee features a pair of Republicans in District 2 member Adam Schlick of Wauconda and District 5 member Kevin Hunter of Ingleside.
Schlick asked what the funding mechanisms might be to fund the consulting services, and Assistant County Administrator Matt Meyers said the staff found they could use some funds appropriated by the American Rescue Plan Act.
Other Democrats on the committee include District 16 member Esiah Campos of Round Lake Beach, District 4 member Gina Roberts of Beach Park and Angelo Kyle of North Chicago.
“With our schools and our children, as an uncle to four nieces, they are lucky to have high-speed internet,” Campos said. “But a lot of the members of my district, their children don’t.”