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.
Organizers of the UC2B Big Broadband project are hurrying to get their applications for state and federal funding in on time --- now that those applications have won the backing of both the Champaign and Urbana city councils. The state grant application is due Wednesday, August 6th, and the federal grant application must be submitted by August 14th.
The state and federal funds are aimed at providing affordable Internet service in low-income and underserved areas of town. But backers say the UC2B project will serve the whole community --- and attract businesses that want access to its high-capacity network.
That's an important point for Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart. He asked UC2B organizer Mike Smeltzer whether the project would add value to the community in the eyes of prospective businesses. Smeltzer said one place that would receive added value would be the University of Illinois Research Park. He says the Research Park already has a high-capacity fiber-optic connection --- but that businesses want a second one as a precaution.
"There are companies moving to the Research Park that talk to (developer) Peter Fox, and they say, 'hey, do you guys have redundant fiber?'", explains Smeltzer. "And he has to say, 'no we don't. We have a single path of fiber'. This (UC2B) would give redundant fiber for the Research Park."
Champaign Council members voted 9-0 to endorse the UC2B grant applications Tuesday night. They're committing up to 920-thousand dollars in matching funds for UC2B. The Urbana City Council voted Monday to commit up to 567-thousand dollars. Both councils also voted to form a consortium with the University of Illinois to oversee the project. UC2B organizers says they'll know by fall if the project has won federal funding.
The Urbana Champaign Big Broadband project took another step toward becoming a reality Monday night by winning the Urbana City Council's approval. The council passed two resolutions supporting the plan to launch a community-wide fast and affordable fiber-optic network --- starting with service to low-income and underserved parts of town.
On Tuesday night, the Champaign City Council will vote on the same resolutions that the Urbana Council approved the previous night -- support for the grant application and participation in a consortium with the University of Illinois to oversee the project.
Supporters of the project, known as UC2B, plan to submit an application for a federal economic stimulus grant that - if awarded - would provide 80 percent of the funding. UC2B plans to apply for a smaller state grant this week. Together, Urbana, Champaign and the University of Illinois would match the grants with about 2.4 million dollars of their own money.
UC2B organizer Mike Smeltzer says that because the project is spread over three years, the cities and the U of I don't have to pay the money out all at once.
"The federal government's not going to give us all the money at once," Smeltzer explains. "It's only going to give us money as we make progress, and as we show our match. So as long as we show up with a third of our matching funds, they'll give us a third of the money. And a year later when we need more money, we'll show up with a third, and they'll give us another match."
The supporters envision UC2B branching out to cover the whole community in the future. But the initial buildout would be just in the low-income underserved areas. A community survey has revealed that the territory that could qualify for the grant is smaller than expected --- covering just about 45-hundred people in Champaign and Urbana.
U of I Library Science professor Abdul Alkalimat (al-KAL-ee-mat) says he doesn't think the smaller size will hurt UC2B's chances of winning government funding.
Because it makes it a smaller project, and therefore, from the state level, they could include us at a lesser cost, therefore others might have an opportunity. So in this sense, we think it won't hurt us, it will help us."
The state grant application must be submitted by Wednesday. The federal grant application is due on August 14th.
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.
The Department of Energy has decided to move forward on a stalled futuristic coal-burning power plant in central Illinois that languished under the previous administration.
The project known as FutureGen would burn coal for power but store emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide underground. It was slated to be built in Mattoon but was canceled after a faulty cost analysis put the price of the project higher than it should have been.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a Friday morning statement that reviving FutureGen is an important step that shows the Obama Administration's commitment to carbon capture technology.
Researchers have found an opportunity for public education in a Hollywood blockbuster. "The DaVinci Code" offered a rich backdrop of religious history in laying out its plot. And in its sequel "Angels and Demons," author Dan Brown injects physics - the Vatican is threatened by a bomb planted by the shadowy organization the Illuminati. Its explosive charge is based on antimatter stolen from CERN, the Swiss particle physics laboratory that produces antimatter in its Large Hadron Collider. Physicists want to step in with some caveats. University of Illinois professor Kevin Pitts says CERN, the collider and antimatter are very real, but he tells AM 580's Tom Rogers that antimatter's potential is just starting to be realized.
Trustees at The University of Illinois are making some big changes to its struggling online degree program.
Trustees first approved Global Campus in 2006. It was designed to be a branch of the University of Illinois solely online, just like the Urbana-Champaign or Springfield campuses. Only 400 or so students are currently enrolled. Administrators were expecting thousands.
The new Global Campus plan will make the three U of I campuses control the online format. But Trustee Larry Eppley says he's concerned the new version will run into the same problems the program encountered when it was first created.
"We got caught up tripping over ourselves when we couldn't even convince everyone to allow their online programs to be listed on Global Campus," Eppley said. He said the new format will put more pressure on the three campuses and faculty.
The three campuses are expected to present their online programs in July.
Seven months after University of Illinois trustees agreed to let the school's Global Campus try to become a standalone, degree-granting institution, they're about to consider scaling it back.
University trustees meeting in Chicago Thursday will consider a measure that would start reshaping the university system's online effort based on a report put together by faculty.
That report calls for winding down the online global campus as it exists and opening again next year with a smaller staff and budget under the control of the university's three campuses.
The measure calls for more study on how to change Global Campus but makes clear that trustees are unhappy with low enrollment. Global Campus has 426 students but was expected to draw thousands.
An astronaut from Central Illinois will lead NASA's space shuttle mission this afternoon.
The commander leading a seven-member crew on the shuttle Atlantis to the Hubble Space Telescope is University of Illinois graduate Scott Altman. This mission has been long-delayed, originally scheduled for last October. On-board equipment that transmits data back to Earth broke down, and it's taken months for engineers to prepare replacement equipment that the Atlantis crew will take to the Hubble.
This is one of 8 or 9 final missions for the Space Shuttle program. It's expected to be phased out either next year or early 2011, depending on government funding. Altman, who was on three other shuttle missions, says he'd like to believe the U of I could play a role when the Orion space capsule resumes manned missions around 2015.
"When I came to NASA, I'd hoped I would be one of the first people to visit Mars and go beyond where we've been. Now I realize it's the next generation that's going to do that, and it's the people I talk to at Illinois who are going to make that happen and be a key part of that," Altman said. "I kind of envy them (for) that opportunity."
Altman says he's happy to pass the torch to potential astronauts, but he admits he's envious of them when making return visits to his alma mater. Altman received a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the U of I in 1990. He's a native of Pekin.
NASA is preparing for a phase-out of its space shuttle program. The shuttle will be replaced by the Orion space capsule. But there will be a 4 to 5 year gap in between the last shuttle launch and the first voyage of the Orion. AM 580's Jeff Bossert talked with the commander of the most recent shuttle mission, University of Illinois graduate Lee Archambault, for his thoughts on the future of the US space program:
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