JCE receives Connect Illinois grant for fiber internet project

High-performance fiber internet service will soon be available to more residents in unserved portions of Carroll and Whiteside counties.

Jo-Carroll Energy’s, broadband division, Sand Prairie, was awarded a $4.6 million grant in Round Two funding in Connect Illinois grant awards.

The grant will enable construction of a fiber-to-the-premise project to bring Sand Prairie fiber to approximately 625 households, businesses or farms in rural portions of Whiteside, Carroll and Jo Daviess counties.

This project includes rural areas north of Mount Carroll as well as rural areas of Fenton, Fulton, Garden Plain and Albany and will build out 146.8 miles of fiber.

The grant will be combined with JCE matching funds bringing the total project to $9,377,681. Grant recipients have three years to spend funds. Engineering details are being finalized.

Sand Prairie identifies its project areas as numbered polygons or fiber neighborhoods. The grant areas have been named GPN1 and MTC9. Members can visit our fiber neighborhoods map at connectsp.com/fiber/communities and click on the link Connect Illinois Round 2 (GPN1 & MTC9) to track progress and also signup for fiber internet service.

All members within the grant area who had previously expressed interest in fiber will receive an email from Sand Prairie containing a customized link to sign up for service at their location.  All other members within the GPN1 and MTC9 fiber neighborhoods will be notified by other means or can go to connectsp.com and complete the Sign-Up step.

“This expansion of Sand Prairie broadband will provide numerous benefits to our communities,” said Jesse Shekleton, director of broadband operations. He noted the impact on area agriculture.

“Building a fiber network that provides the ultimate in broadband services to the farms and residences of the area will enable these members to access applications and tools to make their operations more efficient and enhance crop production,” Shekleton said. “The economic benefit of helping agri-business be more successful will trickle down to other businesses and individuals in and around the area.”

He continued Sand Prairie’s fiber service will offer increased speeds and enhanced reliability, “eliminating many challenges faced by area residents and businesses.”

JCE president and CEO Mike Casper added the availability of fiber will enhance the quality of life for the area’s residents. “Other benefits of our fiber expansion are access to telehealth and online education,” Casper said. “Telehealth services allow patients to consult with their doctors without leaving home and in some cases, allow aging residents to stay in their homes longer.”

“With the pandemic, we have seen how all levels of education relied on virtual learning,” he added. “Many schools are integrating online education as a key element or supplement to classroom work or using to makeup days due to weather or other factors. Students who do not have access to high-speed internet risk falling behind.” 

Casper and Shekleton both expressed their gratitude to the local residents, agri- and other businesses, farm organizations and residents who provided letters of support for the cooperative’s grant application.

“Access to reliable, affordable high-speed broadband is vital to the overall prosperity of our region of northwest Illinois,” Casper said.

“We are committed to working with our members and communities to provide fiber service that promotes economic stability, health and education in our rural communities,” Casper said. “Thanks to this funding from the state, we are one step closer to bringing fiber to all our members and communities who want – and need – fiber internet.”

This grant is the fourth the cooperative has received for its fiber to the premise projects. Additional applications are pending for qualifying areas.