Future of Peoria area relies on increasing digital equity, building a next-generation workforce
July 19, 2023 – Peoria-area business and community leaders joined Comcast today for a roundtable discussion on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring reliable, high-quality, high-speed Internet service to under- and unserved areas in Peoria and Tazewell Counties.
Between federal stimulus dollars and various state and local programs, nearly $50 billion is available to expand broadband Internet service to rural communities locally and elsewhere across the country, including $1 billion recently allocated to Illinois by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. These investments are vital to attracting new businesses to the region, helping children and adults develop important digital skills, ensuring healthcare access, and driving overall economic growth.
“Broadband Internet service, connected students and adults and a workforce with digital skills are crucial to the Peoria-area’s economy and quality of life,” said Chris Smith, Comcast’s Regional Senior Vice President. “Federal funding for broadband connectivity programs has created an unprecedented opportunity to connect rural Illinois communities to the Internet, help low-income families pay for service and help Americans build the digital skills they need to succeed in school, at work and in life.”
Panelists discussed the following ways to achieve digital equity, including:
- Building and expanding state-of-the-art telecommunications networks in rural and other areas that don’t already have access to broadband Internet service;
- Building awareness of the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which can fully or partially cover the cost of broadband Internet service that’s already available or coming to communities in Peoria and Tazewell Counties (the ACP provides eligible households up to $30/month toward the cost of their Internet and/or mobile service bills); and
- Helping students develop the digital skills they need to succeed in school and adults develop the digital skills they need to succeed in the workforce.
Over the course of the panel, participants discussed the importance of broadband Internet connectivity and digital skills to everything from job creation and economic development to the overall quality of life, the future of rural communities, providing meaningful health care access and unlocking the potential of every Peoria-area resident, regardless of their zip code.
- “Healthcare is one of the leading industries in Peoria, and reliable Internet service is vital to providing quality care, including scheduling telehealth appointments, keeping accurate patient records and providing timely laboratory results. Peoria’s future relies on us taking advantage of programs to strengthen and expand broadband access,” said Representative Ryan Spain, who also serves as Vice President of Economic Development, OSF Healthcare System.
- “To me, digital equity is being able to provide the resources for people to access the digital platforms and worlds that they need. It is literally a bridge. And a lot of times in low-income areas, bridges have huge gaps,” said Jacobie Proctor, Chief Executive Officer, George Washington Carver Community Center, Peoria. “Thankfully, Comcast has been an important plank in our bridge, allowing us to reach the people who need our services not just physically, but also digitally.”
- “CNBC just ranked Illinois in the Top 10 states for infrastructure (2), education (2), access to capital (6) and cost of living (9), so we know we’ve got the goods to make things happen,” said Sean McCarthy, Comcast’s Regional Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Initiatives. “The availability of state-of-the-art connectivity and technologies is key to Illinois’ and the Peoria-area’s economic future.”
- “Modern manufacturing facilities are high-tech, using advanced technology to improve efficiency and increase innovation, and manufacturers in Peoria and across Illinois are seeking to hire employees with strong digital skills,” said Gordy Hulten, Chief Operating Officer at the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. “The continued success of our state’s manufacturing sector relies on expanding connectivity and building an educated, digitally-savvy workforce of the future.”
- “In rural areas, retail is the community anchor – from hardware stores, grocery, pharmacy and other sellers of goods,” said Alec Laird, Vice President, Government Relations, Illinois Retail Merchants Association. “Being able to connect online for payment and customer experience is incredibly important. ‘Tele-anything’ is going to be vital to attracting talent, retaining retailers and pharmacists, and providing many services to more rural areas of the state.”