News - Sauk Valley

Sand Prairie picked to provide broadband to ‘every corner of rural Whiteside County’

MORRISON — Sand Prairie, a service unit of Jo-Carroll Energy, was approved Tuesday night as broadband service provider for Whiteside County.

The Whiteside County Board voted 23-0 on a plan that will deploy 1,000 miles of fiber broadband to more than 8,000 addresses and serve 21,000 residents reaching “every corner of rural Whiteside County,” county board Chairman James Duffy said.

The project is estimated to cost more than $70 million. Whiteside County is committing $3 million from American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Duffy called approval of the broadband plan an important milestone for the county, comparing it to railroad expansion of the 19th century or the development of the interstate highway system of the 20th century.

The deployment “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 its remote work, education or healthcare, and greater access to entertainment options,” he said.

Jo-Carroll Energy is a not-for-profit distribution cooperative formed in 1939 that is based in Elizabeth. The Sand Prairie broadband division was created in 2008. According to the company’s Facebook page, it celebrated adding its 3,000th fiber internet customer on Sept. 8.

Mike Casper, Jo-Carroll Energy president and CEO, said: “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.”

Jo-Carroll Energy will apply for matching grants funds for the Whiteside County project.

The absence of reliable and affordable broadband has been evident for awhile. During the COVID-19 shutdown, the impact was magnified.

County Treasurer Penny VanKampen said reliable internet will have an immediate effect with families— including her own — that have school-age children.

“It was really a problem with remote learning during the pandemic,” she said.

Gary Camarano, director of the county’s economic development department, said the project, when completed, will resolve such shortcomings in digital communications.

Camarano said it will allow the county “to compete in a new digital economy that allows more and more Illinoisans to work, live, learn and recreate wherever they chose.”

An 18-member committee met for 14 weeks to discuss connectivity goals, methods and best practices. It researched internet service providers and provided recommendations.

Accelerate Illinois — a cooperative effort of Illinois Office of Broadband, University of Illinois Extension and Benton Institute for Broadband and Society — were all partners in the county’s planning.

Whiteside County Economic Development has said the main obstacle to obtaining broadband had been that for-profit providers did not view the market as economically viable, leaving rural communities in northwest Illinois largely underserved.

The result will be the equitable deployment of a reliable fiber broadband network across the County, the availability of broadband access to the entire County, and an answer to the broadband inequities that currently exist in the County.

The next step for the county and Sand Prairie is to conduct engineering studies and submit grant applications. Installation could take up to five years.

Troy Taylor

Troy E. Taylor

Was named editor for Saukvalley.com and the Gazette and Telegraph in 2021. An Illinois native, he has been a reporter or editor in daily newspapers since 1989.

Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.