Eye On Illinois: Improving internet access is an investment in economy

We had a bad internet week.

Chances are you’ve experienced something similar: slow speeds, disconnected devices, on hold with the provider, chatting with an automated assistant offering little guidance beyond “reset” and ultimately using a cellphone signal to leach enough data into a computer to send a few simple emails.

In our case the culprit was a 6-year-old wireless gateway that wasn’t brand new technology when the provider set us up in the first place. Thanks to a quick in-store visit and the 18-year-old computer whiz who lives upstairs, everything is back up and running (though not without several reminders from the family IT professional that things haven’t been great for months and it only really changed once dad reached his breaking point – not altogether untrue).

There were moments, such as staring at a website that steadfastly refused to load, where I remembered a time before the internet and reflected on my gratitude for things like flush toilets, refrigerators, clothes dryers and dishwashers. But I also really just wanted my online life to be as simple as it always is, especially considering I am financially invested in that arrangement.

One of the sites I loaded after we solved our issue was a Capitol News Illinois story on a new study suggesting the $400 million Illinois lawmakers invested in broadband infrastructure in 2019 might pay for itself in relatively short order.

The University of Illinois Project for Middle Class Renewal and the Illinois Economic Policy Institute estimated the state’s investment, which leveraged $100 million in federal and other outside money, delivered reliable internet access to 238,000 homes, businesses and farms.

Professor Robert Bruno, who directs the Project for Middle Class Renewal, said state and federal investment is meaningful when it provides a chance to connect where the private sector hasn’t identified profit potential.

“For people who have not had access, it certainly isn’t a want for it or an unwillingness to use it,” said Bruno. “This is where, of course, the state contributing to this essential infrastructure in the same way you would build roads and highways, it has a positive impact on affordability.”

IELPI analyst Andrew Wilson made a familiar comparison, saying being without reliable internet access this far into the 21st century evokes those who couldn’t access electricity in the 1930s.

“Everything you need to do needs the internet,” Wilson said, which may not apply to every individual at home (I am thinking of my wife’s 98-year-old grandmother) but certainly does for any business or service provider.”

When work relies on access, that means jobs do as well, so expanding broadband means investing in economic opportunity.

I had a bad internet week, but statewide the future looks good.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at