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NIU extends broadband initiatives

October 6, 2011

NIU continues to support broadband opportunities throughout the northern Illinois region.

Northern Illinois University has furthered its commitment to enhancing broadband opportunities for under-served Illinois residents by acting as a third-party evaluation consultant for a federally funded high-speed Internet project.

“Getting Illinois Low Income Seniors and People with Disabilities Online Demonstration Project” provides Internet connectivity and training to 23 public housing facilities across northern Illinois. The objective is to promote sustained computer use among approximately 3,000 low-income seniors and people with disabilities while creating nearly 100 new jobs. NIU researchers are tasked with assessing the overall effectiveness of the program.

The project is organized by Connected Living, Inc., who received a $6.8 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).

NIU continues to establish itself as a leader in increasing high-speed broadband awareness and availability in Illinois. In September 2010, NIU was awarded a $68.5 million grant – the largest grant in university history – by NTIA to develop a broadband network that spreads across nine counties in northwest Illinois.

In 2003, NIU launched NIUNet, spawning other successful broadband-related projects such as the Illinois Rural Health Network and the DeKalb Advancement of Technology Authority.

The university’s involvement with “Getting Illinois Low Income Seniors and People with Disabilities Online Demonstration Project” is an extension of its broadband efforts intended to further develop the northern Illinois region. The goal is to strengthen education, improve health care practices and stimulate economic development while addressing other social issues by establishing high-speed Internet.

Oak Lawn resident and Health Administration major Deborah Gory is an NIU student researcher working on the project. She says the program has been a positive experience for her and its participants.

“Isolation among older people impacts their social lives,” Gory says. “This is broadening their world. We’ve heard stories of people finding relatives they’ve lost touch with; one man reconnected with an old army troop. It’s been a tremendous experience and so rewarding.”

Among the cities participating in “Getting Illinois Low Income Seniors and People with Disabilities Online Demonstration Project”:

  • Chicago
  • Rockford
  • Joliet
  • DeKalb
  • Kankakee
  • Morris
  • Moline
  • Oak Park
  • Kewanee
  • Mazon
  • Rock Island

James Ciesla, a professor from NIU’s Public Health and Education Programs, says he’s thrilled to be involved with the evaluation. “Not only does the project itself have the potential to greatly increase the quality of life for the people it serves, but the evaluation has made it possible for me to engage several NIU undergraduate student-researchers in an applied research project,” Ciesla says.

Diana Robinson, interim director of NIU’s Center for Governmental Studies, says this project is an example of NIU’s commitment to sharing its expertise to assist local communities.

“Helping bring high speed broadband to our region is just the first step,” Robinson says. “Our next task is to work with residents, businesses and community institutions to understand how to use this connectivity for personal, economic and community development.”

Ciesla and Robinson serve as the principal investigators leading NIU’s research.