BLOOMINGTON — Local government officials, regional planners and the McLean County Farm Bureau want to know how fast internet access is in rural parts of the county.
In a news conference Wednesday, John McIntyre, chairman of the McLean County Board, urged residents to take a survey about their internet access and speeds in the hopes identifying the areas most in need of improvements.
"The primary reason that we are here today is to emphasize the importance of and to encourage everyone in the county to participate in taking the survey," he said.
The survey is open until March 31 and can be taken online at bloomingtonil.gov, normalil.gov and mcleancountyil.gov.
Paper copies of the survey are also available at most libraries in McLean County, McIntyre said.
The goal is to create a map of weak internet areas that would help to secure future state and federal funding for internet infrastructure improvements, the chairman said.
"This (survey) is highly important, helping to determine the amount of funding that we could receive in the future," McIntyre said.
Brian Dirks, president of the McLean County Farm Bureau, explained the benefits of high-speed internet in rural communities.
"Technology is a very important tool of today's farming for access to information about markets, weather, as well as precision agriculture equipment," Dirks said.
He said internet access while farmers are in the field is paramount to success.
"Sometimes you see a tractor with five monitors … because we're applying fertilizer at certain rates, which needs technology," Dirks said. "We are planting at certain populations. We have to keep those consistently."
Anthony Grant, assistant administrator for McLean County, said they will use the data collected to try to secure grant funds through Connect Illinois — a statewide initiative aimed at expanding broadband access as part of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Rebuild Illinois infrastructure program.
However, Grant said the installation and implementation of faster internet infrastructure is up to private internet providers.
"Internet service providers are going to be the ones that are really going to drive this," Grant said. "It's going to be a private sector drive."
With the data from the survey, Grant said they will "identify projects that make sense with the private partnerships that we can establish from a county (perspective), and then we'll go ahead and apply for any of the funding that does become available."
Grant said in November 2022 the board acknowledged that "internet service in the rural parts of the county is a problem."
He said he learned about the opportunity to partner with local organizations like the Illinois Broadband Lab and Benton Institute for Broadband & Society to work toward improving broadband access in McLean County. The Illinois Soybean Association is helping to fund the project, which Grant said he anticipates taking about 18 weeks, from the survey to identifying projects and negotiating funding.