Affordable broadband Internet service can have a multitude of positive impact on individuals, families, business, and organizations, from opening new avenues for communication, to allowing for interactive learning, to enabling faster information sharing.
UC2B is working to make these benefits a reality for members of the Urbana-Champaign community.
The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2010 National Broadband Plan set a goal of ensuring that “affordable broadband is available everywhere and everyone has the means and skills to use valuable broadband applications.” Among the many goals of the National Broadband Plan, the FCC established that at least 100 million US homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of 100 Mbps and actual upload speeds of at least 50 Mbps by the year 2020.
However, broadband adoption can be challenging and there are many reasons why a household or organization may or may not use broadband, such as availability and cost. Many American households may be slow to adopt broadband Internet because of the costs of the service and the related costs of owning a computer, or due to the challenge of finding help to learn how to use a computer and the Internet.
UC2B is working to help the nation reach the goal set by the FCC by bringing affordable and accessible high-speed Internet to Urbana-Champaign, especially in areas where this access can have the most positive benefit.
A history of uneven access in Urbana-Champaign
Prior to the start of the UC2B project, availability and access to broadband varied substantially across Urbana-Champaign neighborhoods. Although broadband adoption rates in the cities overall were comparable to the State of Illinois and the US, adoption rates among the households living in the UC2B target areas was significantly lower. According to a survey conducted by UC2B, slightly more than 61% of the households in Urbana-Champaign had adopted broadband prior to 2010. However, only 38.5% of the households in the target neighborhoods used broadband Internet service.
A starker divide exists among families with children. Prior to 2010, 93% of Urbana-Champaign households with at least one child had broadband Internet access while only 48.5% of households with at least one child in the UC2B neighborhoods had broadband access. This reveals a significant gap in broadband use that may contribute to the digital divide among schoolchildren in terms of the extent to which each child has access to the Internet outside of school.
Progress made toward equal access
In 2009, UC2B received grant funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for construction of fiber-optic infrastructure to residences and businesses, and also supported activities to help reach new subscribers, including door-to-door canvassing and outreach events.
By the end of the grant period, UC2B provided service to 1,058 household subscribers, half of which received broadband Internet services at their home for the first time through UC2B. From 2009 to 2011, the percentage of households in the UC2B service area using broadband Internet increased from 38.5% to 45%. UC2B infrastructure was built passing more than 4,600 homes that can now be connected to high-speed Internet in the future.
The network also connected to 256 community anchor institutions—facilities in the community that can serve vulnerable populations who may not otherwise have Internet access, including, but not limited to: low-income families; the homeless; battered women and their children; people with disabilities; early education, youth, and crisis centers; and senior living facilities. Anchor institutions include schools, libraries, city offices, and more.