News Local/State

Cities To Begin Making UC2B Non-Profit Entity


Staffers with the cities of Champaign and Urbana will quickly tweak language in a plan to shift operations of the local Big Broadband project to a non-profit entity.

In a rare joint study session, Champaign City Council members and Urbana aldermen spent more than three hours Tuesday night discussing plans to privatize the high-speed fiber-optic network helping underserved neighborhoods. 

A nine member-board would oversee the new agency -  with three each from Champaign, Urbana, and the University of Illinois.

Questions from both cities - and the public - concerned community appointments to that board, and the inclusion of minorities in the process.

Rev. Zernial Bogan of Urbana suggested the panel include a community representative, with voting powers - someone who's not currently an elected official.

Craig Walker of Champaign says by not appointing someone who currently uses the high-speed fiber lines - city staff in both towns are forgetting why they got UC2B in the first place.

"This process cannot lose sight of the fact that it would not even exist except for the underserved community," he said.

Urbana Alderman Charlie Smyth wasn't happy that he and colleagues had received the document about a week ago, and five weeks shy of a September 30th deadline, when a federal grant expires.

"I have been asking for these by-laws for months," he said.  "Here we get them a week before they need to be approved – maybe two weeks.  I know the mayor of Urbana has already indicated that she’s not happy with this timeline."

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing and Alderman Dennis Roberts were both absent from the meeting, on a visit to Urbana's sister city in China.

Champaign City Council member Deb Feinen agrees with another suggestion - that minority contractors not be forgotten in this transition.

“And I’m struggling with how do we - sort of put our stamp and tell them that they need to go forth and do that," she said.  "And I think the way that we do that is through our appointments.”

The federal grant that’s paid for most of the project expires on September 30th.  Failure to complete the transfer by then means all assets will turn over to the state.

Both city staffs say UC2B serving as a non-profit means being free of public subsidies, and expansion of the service to the rest of the community. 

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard says city leaders have done what they can make it competitive with Comcast and other broadband providers.