Illinois Public Media News
Champaign and Urbana are vying for federal grant money to build a network of broadband computer service in underserved areas. But that could entice the cities to look into broadening the service even further.
Urbana city council members have held holding a study session on the subject. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the grant - if the cities win it - could be an opportunity to offer internet, TV and phone service at a competitive rate to nearly all residents.
"What I'd like to see, instead of having something that's going to be taking money from the cities over the future, I'd like to see it set up as a utility so that the cities can provide service to the public, and get revenue so we wouldn't have to rely so much on taxes," Prussing said.
The so-called big broadband project is already working to extend coverage to key community facilities like libraries, along with parts of the cities that may not be covered by private fiber-optic projects. Prussing says the council still needs to decide whether to pursue the federal grant, how much it would want to spend and how to develop a business plan for broadband service.
In central Illinois, many employers large and small have downsized or closed altogether, forcing thousands of laid-off workers to consider new options. In our latest report as part of our outreach project "WILL Connect: The Economy", AM 580's Jeff Bossert looks at the retraining of workers. Ingenuity and government-funded training are giving many of them a jump on a new career, or a better shot at an old one:
Champaign city council members may take a preliminary vote this week to cut its cable TV franchise agreement with Comcast.
But an attorney working on talks between Comcast and the cities of Champaign and Urbana says the measure will not be as drastic as it seems. Brian Grogan says negotiations with the cable company have been going on in good faith, and a pending council vote tomorrow night to reject Comcast's offer for a franchise renewal won't mean the end of those talks.
"If they believe that the proposal doesn't meet the needs, then it's considered a preliminary denial," Grogan said. "In all likelihood, Comcast would request further proceedings, and the parties would continue to move forward down that statutory process."
City leaders say they've reached an impasse with Comcast over a number of points, including a local Comcast office, use of rights-of-way for cables, and funding for local government and public access channels. The current franchise agreement runs out at the end of October.
A state-sponsored advocacy group for utility customers in Illinois says cell phone customers generally pay much more than they should.
The Citizens Utility Board has analyzed hundreds of wireless telephone bills as part of a free online program it offers. CUB director David Kolata says those bills offered valuable information on billing practices.
"You upload an online version of your cell phone bill and it automatically recommends the best plan for you," Kolata said. "Since it was introduced last year, about 7,000 people have used it, and the average savings is about 330 dollars a year."
Kolata says more than half of all minutes that people purchase each month go to waste, as well as a large number of unused text messages. He also says about half of all bills carry unnecessary extras, like insurance that doesn't cover much. The online program will compare your plan to other offers by your cellphone provider and its competitors.
You can find the service at www.cubcellphonesaver.org.
Ameren says an expanding portion of Southwest Champaign has necessitated plans for a new transmission line.
The first of two public meetings to help determine the route for the utility proposed 138-thousand volt line is Monday. It would extend from the Bondville Route 10 substation to one on the southwest portion of the University of Illinois campus in Savoy.
Spokesman Leigh Morris says what's key are any concerns about 'sensitivities' someone may want the line to steer clear of:
"It could be something like a cemetery, it could be a flood plain, it could be an archaeological site, a hospital, a school," Morris said. "But we need that kind of input, and we certainly want people to come because we need that input to develop the routes."
At a second open house this fall... Ameren IP will unveil its proposals for routes. Morris says feedback will still play a role then in what's submitted to the Illinois Commerce Commission. The filing with the ICC will take place in January, and its review process is expected to take 12 to 15 months.
Many routes for the line are already under consideration... they can be viewed on line at CI transmission-dot-com. Ameren's first public meeting on the transmission line is Monday from 4 to 7 at the Holiday Inn on Killarney Street in Urbana.
Champaign residents could start seeing more flyers on their cars and doorknobs soon, if the City Council goes ahead with plans to repeal a prohibition against the advertising practice.
Right now, only political and religious groups can leave a flyer on someone's doorknob in Champaign. And it's illegal to leave flyers of any sort on someone's windshield. But after a company that distributes such flyers argued that the ban violates the First Amendment, the council decided to revisit the issue. Council members unanimously endorsed ending the ban on doorknob flyers at Tuesday night's study session. But the council split 5 to 4 on ending the windshield flyer ban. For Councilwoman Marci Dodds, letting commercial handbills be plastered on windshields was too much.
"I don't have a problem with political and religious handbilling. I'm not fond of it because it just one of my pet peeves. But I don't see that commercial (handbilling) falls in the same category as that in the slightest," Dodds said.
But other council members said that the First Amendment wins out and that the council should repeal any law that they believe to be unconstitutional. Council member Tom Bruno said if Champaign resident gets an unwanted handbill on their car or door, they can exercise their own first amendment rights.
"I think a resident who gets an unwanted handbill should take the time to phone the business or the politician and say I'm really upset by this and I'm not going to do business with you," Bruno said.
The council will take a final vote on the issue at a later meeting.
Action Tuesday by the U-S Energy Department gives a green light to action at the FutureGen site near Mattoon. So says Angela Griffin, president of the economic development group Coles Together.
The Energy Department issues a formal Record of Decision which formally approves FutureGen's goals, objectives and potential environmental impacts. Griffin says before, the FutureGen Alliance could only work on the experimental clean coal project in general terms. Now, she says they can focus directly on conditions at the Mattoon site.
"They can do some very site-specific engineering and design work, which will then lead to some very specific cost estimates which are needed to get at the final cost of the plant.," Griffith said. "This allows them to do some work here, it allows them do some further subsurface characterization of the site, to verify what we already believe is the case, to spend some money at our site in a way that they weren't able to do before today."
The FutureGen project aims to build an experimental coal gasification plant that cuts down on carbon emissions by burying them underground. The project depends on both federal funding and money from the energy industry. The Bush Administration had pulled away from the project, citing rising cost estimates. But FutureGen found new support under the Obama administration.
Lots of remote employees and nomadic freelancers work without a place they can call an office. But an Urbana company is stepping in to fill the niche and get local entrepreneurs back in desk chairs in a trend known as co-working. AM 580's Marrissa Monson visited co-owners Lucy Cross and Susan Potter (left).
Illinois is leading the nation in bank failures so far this year, and a banking group warns that more failures are likely.
Regulators say the state's top ranking is largely because Illinois has more banks than any other state.
Illinois has seen 12 banks fail in 2009. The next highest is Georgia with nine failures and then California with six. Six of the Illinois failures came last week with the shut down of six banks owned by a single company, including Danvulle's First National Bank and John Warner Bank in Clinton.
Experts say they were brought down by investments that went bad. All have reopened with new owners. The Illinois Bankers Association says Illinois has far more banks than any other state, so more failures are likely.
State regulators closed six Illinois banks owned by one holding company on Thursday. Banks in Danville, Clinton and four other Illinois cities have been handed over to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which is arranging to have them reopen Monday under new owners.
The First National Bank of Danville became the 50th FDIC-insured bank to fail this year, and the 11th in Illinois, when it was placed in receivership yesterday by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The bank will reopen Monday as part of First Financial Bank of Terre Haute.
Regulators also closed the John Warner Bank in Clinton --- it reopens Monday as part of the State Bank of Lincoln.
Other banks scheduled to reopen under new owners are the First State Bank of Winchester, Founders Bank in Worth, Rock River Bank in Oregon and the Elizabeth State Bank.
All six banks were part of the Founders Group, based in Worth, a Chicago suburb. An FDIC news release says the banks failed because they lost too much money to bad loans, including investments in collateralized debt obligations.
Two of the Founders Group's banks, in Gilman and Peotone, are NOT affected.
The FDIC says depositors will not lose any money due to the closures, and can still access their money over the weekend by ATM or debit card, or by writing checks. The federal agency has set up toll-free numbers to call for more information about the bank closures. The number for the First National Bank of Danville is 1-800-591-2817. The number for the John Warner Bank is 1-800-837-0215. The phone numbers will be operational on Friday and Saturday from 9 AM to 6 PM, Sunday from 12 PM to 6 PM, and thereafter from 8 AM to 8 PM (all times CDT). More information is also available on the FDIC website, at www.fdic.gov.
The six Illinois banks --- plus one in Texas --- that were placed in receivership bring to 52 the number of FDIC-insured banks that have been closed this year.
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