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Thursday, March 30, 2006 04:53 am

Broadband turtle

Illinois moves at dial-up speed in the Information Age

Illinois ranks 27th in the nation in broadband penetration, according to the Federal Communications Commission. The upshot? It’s easier to put a customer-service call center in India than in a state where way too many folks have dial-up Internet service — or none at all. So says Rep. Julie Hamos, D-Evanston, who is pushing for the state to expand access to high-speed Internet service. “I believe that no person or community can be competitive in this era without access to broadband,” Hamos says. Expanding broadband access is barely a blip on lawmakers’ radar screens. Hamos says a bill she has introduced to encourage expanded access won’t go forward this year because lawmakers first must answer basic philosophic questions, including whether the state should have a policy of ensuring universal, affordable, and competitive broadband access. If the answer is yes, Hamos’ bill would require all publicly owned broadband infrastructure, such as fiber-optic systems, to be made available for lease by any public or private entity. The state, for example, has excess capacity that’s now going unused. It’s broad language that makes some activists nervous. “What is to prevent a Comcast or an SBC from leasing an entire network?” asks Annie Collins, a Batavia woman who sits on a governor’s council formed in September to explore ways to bring broadband to more areas of the state. “Then we end up with a monopolistic situation.” Hamos says her bill is a work in progress, and details can be worked out when legislators get serious, hopefully next year. “As long as we have universal deployment of broadband — that, to me, is the goal,” she says. In Springfield, where Mayor Tim Davlin doesn’t see a role for the city in providing high-speed Internet service, the state hasn’t gotten very far in creating a proposed Wi-Fi hotspot in downtown. There’s neither a budget nor a timetable. Just two cities, Mt. Vernon and Quincy, have received $20,000 state grants to create hot spots.
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