Since 2012, Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband (UC2B) has improved internet access for local homes and businesses by providing high-speed, direct connectivity through its underground fiber-optic network. A recent acquisition by a new provider, i3 Broadband, will further benefit the community through enhanced services.
UC2B has partnered with i3 Broadband, a privately owned company that will assume management of the open-access network from iTV-3, the original service provider. Based on feedback from community and UC2B board members, i3 Broadband plans to aggressively expand UC2B to include a "triple play" of gigabit internet access that includes television and telephone services. i3's goal is to open up a local storefront by summer; in the meantime, community members should visit i3broadband.com to sign up for service and view the various offerings.
"UC2B, with its Community Benefit Fund, is full of opportunities that we hope to use to stimulate creative, educational, and economic developments throughout the area," said Sharon Irish, acting director of the iSchool's Center for Digital Inclusion (CDI). "Imagine virtual exhibits of local history shared across anchor institutions, school children using an electron microscope remotely, or businesses able to share data quickly to promote health initiatives."
A number of faculty and staff at the iSchool made extensive contributions to UC2B during and after the grant period. For example, Jon Gant, founding director of CDI and former iSchool research associate professor, served on the UC2B board and provided direction and planning for the project until his departure from the iSchool in August 2016. In addition to Gant's expertise, the University of Illinois contributed other board participants with extensive knowledge and experience in telecommunications.
"The combination of the UC2B infrastructure, support from the cities and the University, a vendor partner who subscribes to our vision, and the talent and goodwill of our community positions us to become the Silicon Valley of the prairie," said Tracy Smith, director of Research IT at the University and a current representative on the UC2B board.
Funded in 2009 by $35 million in federal, state and local funds, UC2B has served more than 1,200 residences; more than 300 fiber-connected businesses; dozens of nonprofit and governmental organizations; and every single school, fire station, and major medical facility in the twin cities of Urbana and Champaign. The network was designed to provide digital opportunities to more people—by reducing barriers to high-speed internet access—and to spur economic, educational, and social growth. As one of the first gigabit fiber-optic networks in the United States, UC2B is unique in that the University collaborated with its two host cities to implement the grant.