rural broadband

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Illinois plans on spending $400 million over the next several years to improve internet access to farms and small towns.

But first, the state needs to know who has a reliable internet connection and who doesn’t.

The federal government tracks where high-speed internet is available. But the mapping has been criticized for overstating access, particularly in rural areas. Around 30 percent of residents living in rural Illinois lack internet access at speeds of 25 mbps and above, according to a report from the Federal Communications Commission.

Slow internet service can slow a business down, adding up to lost time and money. And often the problem is worse in rural areas.

That’s one reason John Sullivan, acting director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said improving internet access is a top priority for him.

“If there isn’t adequate access to high-speed internet, it really drags and holds back the possibility for jobs and opportunities in those areas,” he said.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Small internet service providers in Illinois are optimistic after the farm bill – which President Trump recently signed – included more money for expanding high-speed internet access in sparsely populated areas.

The law earmarks $350 million annually for loans and grants for broadband projects. That’s on top of $600 million set aside earlier this year for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Re-Connect program.