Northwestern Illinois’ technological and financial future received another boost Monday as educators and state and local officials broke ground for the Lee County leg of the iFiber project at Sauk Valley Community College.
Under sunshine and promises of jobs for generations, leaders such as Illinois State Sen. Christine Johnson (R-Shabbona) heralded the project, partnered with NIU, as a critical step into the 21st century.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for northwest Illinois,” she said. “It will bring about (300 construction) jobs, and allow schools, libraries, hospitals, and law enforcement agencies to have broadband, high-speed Internet services.”
IFiber, an Illinois not-for-profit organization, is designed to provide high-speed communication services to private and public customers in nine northwest Illinois rural counties: Boone, LaSalle, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson Winnebago, Carroll, JoDaviess and Whiteside counties.
Work for the $69 million, 900-mile venture started earlier this year. Monday’s groundbreaking moved it to another stage.
The fiber optic wire that is buried in the ground will eventually replace wires that give slow, unreliable internet service to the 2,500 students of Sauk Valley Community College and patrons of the Cherry Valley Public Library.
“This project will give us the ability to provide better on-line courses and better internet services for our students,” said George Mihel, Sauk Valley Community College president.
And it will give library patrons internet services that do not fail when temperatures dip below freezing.
“The old internet lines are in the ground on top of other wires,” said Eve Kirk, director of the Cherry Valley Public Library. “When the temperatures drips, moisture must get in the line because we lose our connection”
The project is funded through a grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program.
NIU is working with LaSalle County, the North Central Council of Governments, the City of Rockford, Boone County and the Blackhawk Hills RC&D.
The iFiber project is a public-private partnership focused on improving broadband infrastructure in underserved rural areas. It will provide access to the new fiber optic network to community anchor institutions such as schools, government, libraries, community colleges and health care providers.
by Gerard Dziuba