UC2B Network Set for Nonprofit Transition

By: Roxana Ryan

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, July 30, 2013 — Planned changes in the Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband network (UC2B) will allow for expansion to more homes and lessen the potential burden on local taxpayers, according to city and university representatives.

Council members from the City of Urbana, Champaign and the University of Illinois met Tuesday, July 30, 2013 to discuss the transition and transfer of network assets to a new nonprofit agency. According to UC2B leaders, forming a nonprofit agency will attract private internet service providers who want to lease parts of the fiber-to-the-home network, providing a more competitive market for local consumers.

“At the City Councils’ request, the new UC2B board will be established to be open and responsive to our community’s needs,” said Brandon Bowersox-Johnson, current chair of the UC2B Policy Board. “This new structure will provide a long-term foundation for UC2B to be an educational and economic catalyst for our community.”

More than 1,000 subscribers are currently hooked up to the UC2B fiber network, thanks to a $22.5million federal grant received from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) in 2010. The grant provided funding to connect more than 200 community anchor institutions (like hospitals, schools and libraries) to seven community-wide fiber-optic backbone rings and for fiber-to-the-home connections in underserved, mostly low-income areas of Champaign-Urbana.

“Transitioning UC2B to a non-profit corporation from the current three-member Intergovernmental Consortium, will facilitate faster decision making and will allow UC2B to be more nimble and better serve the community,” said Michael Smeltzer, the principal investigator for the UC2B grant. “It is also the key to attracting a private partner that is willing to invest in making fiber connectivity available to every home and business in Champaign and Urbana,” added Smeltzer.

The timeline for the proposed transition is approaching quickly. City leaders have until Aug. 9, 2013 to submit an application to the State of Illinois asking permission to form the nonprofit. The federal grant expires on September 30, 2013 and if an agreement is not reached, the burden for maintaining the network could fall on taxpayers.

Maintaining the network’s core principles was a topic of heavy discussion throughout the meeting. Leaders and community members spoke on the importance of ensuring UC2B remains an open access network and that the community and minorities are included in decisions.

According to the UC2B website, maintaining an open access network is the key to providing competitive rates and a plethora of consumer choices. By creating a nonprofit agency, the network will also be able to be more flexible.

Although the nonprofit will be a freestanding agency, city governments and the University will still have some control. A nine-member board (three members each from the City of Champaign, Urbana and the University) will oversee the agency.

“We need to remember that UC2B will be in a competitive market and run as a business,” said Don Gerard, Champaign mayor. “We’re building something that will have a huge impact on our community not just now, but in 10 to 15 years and beyond.”


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