Broadband expansion in Illinois will create 25,000 jobs, researchers say

The planned expansion of broadband Internet access in Illinois will create thousands of jobs, raise workers’ wages and help bridge rural-urban and racial divides in online access, according to researchers from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois. in Urbana-Champaign found in a recent study.

In 2019, 83% of Illinois residents had high-speed internet access. Federal and state investments are expected to connect 238,000 households, businesses and farms to broadband by 2026. In total, the researchers say, the investment will increase state labor income by $843 million annually and create approximately 25,000 permanent and temporary jobs.

The expansion will generate enough tax revenue to offset the state investment within four years of completion, said study co-author Frank Manzo IV, executive director of the Institute for Economic Policy of Illinois.

“I can’t think of anything that’s so universally beneficial to everyone, that touches every corner of the state,” said Robert Bruno, co-author of the study and director of the Project for Life Renewal. the middle class.

Funding for the broadband expansion comes from the state’s $400 million Rebuild Illinois infrastructure program enacted in 2019 and the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law by President Joe Biden last year. Researchers estimate that the state is on track to receive approximately $1 billion in total funding for broadband expansion by 2025. As of 2020, $162 million in expansion funding has already been invested in Illinois, connecting 39,000 homes, farms and businesses to high-speed internet, the study shows.

Manzo said jobs created by the investment will come from the construction and supply sectors during the construction phase, as well as jobs created in retail, restaurants and other small businesses when the investment will increase the wages of workers, who in turn will invest more in their local economies.

“Residents who have high-speed internet access are more likely to be employed, and when employed, they earn higher incomes,” Manzo said.

John Fletcher, a broadband analyst at Kagan, the media research unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers projected by the study were “touched and ultimately exceeded”.

“Broadband has kind of become a service we need; it’s not (just) a nice thing to have now,” Fletcher said. “It’s something every American needs to properly survive in the 21st century.”

The researchers found that when controlling for other factors, broadband access is associated with annual earnings increases of 3% for Hispanic workers, 5% for white workers, and 7% for workers black.

The researchers hope that the expansion help bridge Illinois’ digital divide, which divides the state along racial and geographic lines. In suburban Chicagoland, 88% of residents had broadband access in 2019, as did 82% of city residents. Meanwhile, only 76% of downstate residents were online. And in Chicago, 90% of white residents had broadband access, a level well above that of black and Hispanic residents, who are connected at rates of 78% and 79%, respectively.

Data from the University of Chicago’s Data Science Institute shows significant disparities between Chicago’s most connected neighborhoods and least connected. In the Loop and Near North Side, researchers found that more than 94% of households are connected to the internet. In Burnside and West Englewood, less than 62% of households are connected; and in the Roseland and East Garfield Park areas, broadband connectivity drops below 50%.

The COVID-19 pandemic, Manzo said, has highlighted the need for high-speed internet. “There is growing recognition that this reliable high-speed internet access has become an essential part of everyday life and business activity,” he said.

“It’s also a professional skill,” Bruno said. “And it seems to me that’s exactly where public policy should be invested. You’re investing in broader infrastructure, which is good for the wider community, the state, but you’re also investing in your people.

Researchers hope that broadband expansion will help rural Illinois attract and retain healthcare workers by improving access to telemedicine. They also hope to address population decline in the south of the state by making remote work more possible in some areas, Manzo said.

Despite what the researchers describe as “historic investment levels,” they found that 13% of Illinois residents will still not have broadband access in 2026. Investments to cover the remaining residents could cost more $3 billion, the authors estimate.

tasoglin@chicagotribune.com

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