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Big broadband (UC2B)

The Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband (UC2B) project has until next summer to sign up at least 2,500 households in 11 low-income neighborhoods to its forthcoming high-speed fiber-optic broadband network.(See an indepth report here)

The nearly $30 million project will directly connect these households to more than 140 organizations, schools, social service agencies, healthcare facilities, youth centers, libraries and colleges at super-fast speed. (See maps here)

In the coming weeks, an engineer will be selected for the project and construction could begin as early as next summer

Once completed, local Internet service providers will also be able to connect to the project's open network '“ offering competitive service to subscribers.

Subscription prices will start at $20 a month. (See more at this Aug. 6 project report to the Champaign City Council)

Project staff met with community members this week to collect advice on how best to sell the service.

As one local Web designer later noted, "The digital divide is no longer a money divide, it's a mindset divide.'

According to 2009 data from the Census Bureau, 68.7 percent of American households had a computer with Internet access. In 2000, only 41.5 percent of American households had Internet access.

Further:

'¢ White Americans were more likely to have Internet access at home than black Americans '“ 79.9 percent vs. 68.1 percent

'¢ At 63.9 percent, Hispanics were less likely to have Internet access at home.

'¢ Residents over 55 years old were also less likely than younger residents to have Internet access at home '“ 63 percent.

'¢ Those without a high-school diploma were less likely than those who had some college to have Internet access in their homes '“ 41 percent vs. 83.9 percent.

'¢ Those with bachelor's degrees or higher were the most likely to have Internet access in their homes '“ 93 percent.

The UC2B project will provide a direct connection to the new network to subscribers in the targeted neighborhoods but some of the challenges raised during this week's discussion centers around this question '“ What happens next?

Everyone agrees that the service will provide much-needed education and employment opportunities to those in low-income areas, but no one can yet answer how subscribers will access and use the new service.

Champaign-Urbana has many organizations, programs, services and people to help bridge the new gap between service and equipment/skills.

But where do the builders begin?

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