Does your rural county need a Broadband Breakthrough?

How’s your broadband? Across your county, does everyone have the fast, reliable, and affordable internet services necessary for today’s world of precision agriculture, e-commerce, distance learning, and tele-health? If not, is there a plan to fix it or are community leaders just hoping for the best as federal and state funding becomes available?

The Opportunity

World-class broadband is a necessity for a rural community to thrive and survive. Following the success of Broadband Breakthrough in five counties, the Illinois Soybean Association is expanding its support for this ag- focused community engagement and broadband planning program. Program organizers will select 10 additional counties—which will be split into two cohorts—to receive in-depth technical assistance to ensure they receive their share of broadband funds and use them to create the best possible broadband networks.

The Program

Broadband Breakthrough is a four-month guided self-help program where community teams gather critical information, set priorities, and create partnerships with broadband providers. Teams of eight to 15 members meet weekly for two hours. Expert presentations are done in the first hour with all team members from the five participating communities. The second hour is reserved for each community to meet and plan their own work in a Zoom breakout room or on-site locally.

Through the program, each community will accomplish the following:

  • Create a broadband vision and goals statement outlining desired outcomes
  • Conduct a community broadband survey (with extensive guidance and assistance)
  • Interview current and prospective broadband providers
  • Review and analyze provided broadband maps
  • Host a Broadband Breakthrough Team visit in your community
  • Create a countywide broadband plan with up to four hours of Benton Institute assistance
  • Create and deliver a presentation of the plan to the Broadband Breakthrough cohort as preparation for local presentations to county boards and other local organizations

Illinois Soybean Association has facilitated and funded a strong Illinois team to support this initiative:

  • Benton Institute for Broadband & Society will organize and deliver the program sessions and guide community planning
  • University of Illinois Extension provides essential expertise on community survey implementation and reporting as well as meeting logistics
  • Illinois State University provides ag-focused maps and data on increased soy and corn production potential and telecommunications tower sites
  • The Illinois Office of Broadband and the University of Illinois Broadband Lab provide detailed broadband mapping support and a program liaison for each participating community

Eligibility, Priority Counties, and Criteria
All rural counties are eligible to apply for Broadband Breakthrough. We will select ten rural counties to participate with fall and winter cohorts of five communities each. Applicants can propose regional or multi-
county approaches but note that the larger geography and stakeholder numbers can limit effective planning. It is recommended that adjacent coun􏰀es apply individually and then collaborate as makes sense.

The most important factor in the selection process is the demonstrated strength of the team and members’ commitment to participate regularly in weekly cohort meetings. Team members should be comprised of leaders from local government, the agricultural sector, anchor institutions, economic development agencies, and more.

Application Process
Please submit the following information to Bill Coleman at

Registration Deadline: January 30th, 2024

  • Community contact person
  • Brief community description
  • Brief assessment of the current broadband situation
  • Team members names and affiliated organizations/roles
  • Documented team member commitment (member letters or one letter with signatures)
  • Identify key staff leadership and support for this initiative
  • Describe any past or current work on community broadband initiatives and the benefits/frustrations of this work

Questions can be sent to Bill’s email address or by calling him at 651-491-2551. The Benton team is happy to meet with prospective communities to explain the program and answer questions. The Benton team is available to review draft applications and provide feedback.