High Speed Internet Services and Information Technology Act

Chairperson Howard, Members of the Committee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to submit this statement for the record with regard to Representative Howard’s High Speed Internet Services and Information Technology Act of 2007.

The proposed legislation builds on the positive developments we’ve witnessed in the State of Kentucky in terms of increasing broadband penetration and access.  Much of that success was enabled by the work of the public-private Connect Kentucky partnership.  This collaborative effort brought state government together with universities, hospitals, schools, and other stakeholders, as well as telecommunications providers and technology companies to benchmark the state’s broadband map, identify gaps with highly detailed maps, and build demand to help facilitate the build out of high speed internet networks.

Within a relatively short time frame, Connect Kentucky was able to publish a series of maps that identify network data for municipal, cable, and wireless broadband services, among others, as well as detail down to the level of individual water towers, proposed road and water projects, and population density.  These 20-megabyte maps also include a very interesting phenomenon – grey areas in which there are no high speed internet providers offering service.  Telecommunications providers, as well as the general public, were able to look at these maps and identify new market opportunities.  At the same time, Connect Kentucky’s Community Leadership Teams, which represent an important cross-section of their communities, worked to increase awareness of the benefits of broadband access and promoted the adoption of the new technology across the state.

In the past year alone, Kentucky has witnessed a 28 percent increase in broadband use.  Since Kentucky’s Governor Ernie Fletcher implemented his Prescription for Innovation plan in 2004, statewide broadband availability increased by 36 percent, usage increased by 45 percent, and broadband Internet access is available to 375,000 households that previously had no such access.

There’s no reason in my mind why Illinois can’t replicate Kentucky’s experience in this area.  In fact, I’ve been told that with a concerted and coordinated effort, Illinois can apply the knowledge learned from the Kentucky experience and use it to exceed their pace.  According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Illinois ranks 18th in the nation in terms of the percentage of homes subscribing to broadband (40.2% of Illinois households).  The good news is that that number is up from 9.1% of Illinois households in 2002.  The bad news is that our ranking places us behind Florida, Kansas, Colorado, and Virginia, among other states.

Thanks to the efforts of Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn and his Illinois Broadband Deployment Council and legislators like Representatives Howard and Hamos, awareness of the importance of broadband has never been higher in Illinois.  I recently held a Broadband Deployment Summit in Springfield, Illinois where we heard from a cross-section of business leaders, hospital administrators, educators, and state government officials.  All had a story to tell about the way that high speed internet access has a profound effect on outcomes and competitiveness.  Quite simply, businesses, hospitals, schools, and even communities, regions, and states are better able to compete if they have access to or can offer broadband service.

The U.S. Department of Commerce recently released an empirical study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the effect of broadband access on economic outcomes.  The first of its kind study, which measured broadband and non-broadband communities over a three-year period, shows that broadband communities significantly outgrew non-broadband communities in terms of employment, the number of businesses overall, businesses in IT-intensive sectors, and property values.  If Illinois doesn’t make a serious coordinated effort in this space, our state will be less able to compete with Colorado, Kansas, and Virginia in attracting and keeping businesses and talented professionals.

At the federal level, there has been an absence of leadership for far too long on this issue.  I am currently working on a piece of legislation that would create a matching, competitive, peer-reviewed grant program for state-level public-private partnerships similar to Connect Kentucky.  The program would serve as an incentive for other states to follow the model of Kentucky of leveraging public and private resources to create detailed maps, benchmark current broadband resources, identify gaps in service, and build demand for high speed internet.

I’m happy that I’ll be pursuing this federal legislation while state leaders like Representative Howard are working to improve state connectivity here in Illinois.  I thank the Chairperson again for this opportunity to comment and for her hard work on this issue.