In a 23-0 vote, the Whiteside County Board approved a plan to bring reliable fiber broadband access to the underserved and unserved residents, businesses and organizations of the county. The plan, recommended to the Board by the Connect Whiteside Committee, will see the equitable deployment of approximately 1,000 miles of fiber broadband access to over 8,000 addresses and over 21,000 residents. The project is estimated to cost more than $70 million, and Whiteside County will commit $3 million from the ARPA funds the county received.

“Tonight’s vote is an important milestone for Whiteside County,” said County Board Chair James Duffy. “Bringing high-speed broadband fiber to the entire county is a big thing. It is comparable to bringing the railroad to communities in the 19th century or the Interstate Highway system post WWII. The deployment of fiber broadband across the county will keep the county and its businesses competitive in today’s global environment, it will provide residents with an upgrade to their quality of life, whether it’s remote work, education or healthcare, and greater access to entertainment options. The committee worked hard on this, and I believe we have chosen the right partner, Sand Prairie, to help us deploy broadband fiber to every corner of rural Whiteside County.”

The County and Sand Prairie, a service unit Jo-Carroll Energy, a local energy and broadband cooperative, will work together to take advantage of the historic federal and state broadband funding currently available to accomplish the project.

“This project will solve a long-term problem, leverage local engagement to ensure strong outcomes, and position the county to compete in a new digital economy that allows more and more Illinoisans to work, live, learn and recreate wherever they chose,” said Gary Camarano, Whiteside County Economic Development Director.

The county knew that too many of its residents lacked access to reliable, affordable broadband, a fact confirmed by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and decided it was vital to do something about it. They formed the ConnectWhiteside Committee, made up of 18 members, and met over a 14-week period to discuss the connectivity problem, methods to address it, best practices from across the nation and the results of a community survey. The committee researched potential Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and followed up with an extensive interview process to select the ISP finalist. The committee unanimously voted to select Sand Prairie, a local provider.

“Since 1939, we have been delivering utility solutions to local underserved and unserved rural residents and communities in Northwest Illinois to enhance the quality of life,” said Mike Casper, Jo-Carroll Energy president and CEO. “We look forward to working with the county to accelerate the buildout of high-speed fiber internet service to homes, businesses and communities throughout Whiteside County.”

Whiteside County will commit $3 million from the ARPA funds the County received. In addition to the ARPA funds, Jo-Carroll Energy will apply for matching grants funds to help accomplish the buildout in Whiteside County. When the project is completed, a reliable fiber broadband network will stretch across the County bringing broadband access to residents and eliminating current inequities.

Penny VanKampen, Whiteside County Treasurer said, “This is huge! As a family that lives in underserved rural Whiteside County, we have experienced the lack of fast and reliable internet connectivity. We have school age children in the family, and it was really a problem with remote learning during the pandemic, as well work related and quality of live issues. I am really looking forward to having a fast, reliable internet connection.”

The County and Sand Prairie will finalize an agreement to work together, perform necessary engineering studies and project plans and write and submit grant applications. The process will require close cooperation between the two parties to accomplish the deployment of 1,000 miles of fiber.

The estimated life of the project is five years, and as Mr. Camarano said, “This will definitely be worth it – for the improved quality of life and competitiveness it will bring to the County. This is a game changer for the County.”