Broadband for Libraries

Ensuring broadband access and digital equity for Illinois libraries

Illinois has 1.5 million residents without access to the internet or computer equipment in their households, and many more lack the digital skills necessary to successfully participate in essential activities like telehealth, education, work, and civic engagement. Over $1.4 billion of federal funding has been allocated to advance broadband access and digital equity in Illinois. These programs augment the pre-existing Connect Illinois initiative.

The Office of Broadband in the Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity and Commerce (DCEO) leads the planning and deployment of these programs

libraries are essential to digital equity

Library workers are the original digital navigators, providing digital inclusion services and advancing digital equity in the communities and institutions we serve. See key definitions and other resources below. 

core library services

Libraries of all types provide digital inclusion services like internet connections, technology equipment, digital skill development, tools for students and learners of all ages, and support for telehealth access.

Broadband access issues

Many Illinois libraries don’t have access to affordable high-speed internet or adequate technology equipment.

stakeholder engagement

As important partners in digital equity work, library participation in community engagement opportunities and other activities is highly valued by the Office of Broadband.

funding oppoRTUNITIES

State and federal support for broadband expansion and digital equity may lead to grant opportunities for libraries.

how to take action

Information about the programs and activities related to broadband funding is developing and changing rapidly. Pay attention to this space for up-to-date action items.

participate in the BEAD map challenge process

If your library doesn’t currently have access to affordable 1Gbps (1000 Mbps) upload/download speeds, it’s critically important to make sure your location is counted as eligible to be included in broadband expansion funding.

The BEAD Challenge Map will be used to determine which locations are eligible for funding through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program get connected to modern high-speed internet.

The library data in this map is out of date and overstates availability. More information on how you can help ensure accurate data can be found on the Connect Illinois site

Read Illinois Plans and our responses

The Illinois Digital Equity Plan outlines a vision for all Illinois residents to have affordable access to high-speed internet and be able to use the internet safely and effectively. Libraries are critical partners, and it’s important for us to be represented. Read the open letter our organizations submitted as public comment.

The BEAD Five-Year Action Plan and Initial Proposals detail the state’s plan to deploy high-speed broadband to unserved and underserved residences and community anchor institutions. Read the open letter our organizations submitted as public comment.

These plans are required of each state as a part of the process for receiving funding, and implementation will begin upon approval.

get informed

The broadband and digital equity projects funded by the state and federal governments will span multiple years and have long term impact. It’s not too late to get engaged in making sure your library and the Illinois residents you serve can benefit.

Get started by exploring the resources below. You can also connect with efforts in your local community or county and watch for opportunities to participate in events and provide feedback.


more information 


Adapted from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA).

Digital Equity

Digital equity is a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy. Digital equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.

Digital Inclusion

Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This includes five elements:

  1. Affordable, robust broadband internet service;
  2. Internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user;
  3. Access to digital literacy training;
  4. Quality technical support; and
  5. Applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration. Digital Inclusion must evolve as technology advances.

Digital Inclusion requires intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional and structural barriers to access and use technology.

Digital Literacy

NDIA recommends the American Library Association’s definition of Digital Literacy via their Digital Literacy Task Force: Digital Literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.

Broadband Adoption

Rhinesmith, Colin. “Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives.” Evanston, IL: Benton Foundation, January 2016.

Broadband adoption has traditionally been defined as residential subscribership to high-speed Internet access. But for those in the field working to increase the digital capacity of communities, broadband adoption is daily access to the Internet:

  • At speeds, quality and capacity necessary to accomplish common tasks,
  • With the digital skills necessary to participate online, and
  • On a personal device and secure, convenient network.

Digital Inclusion Ecosystem

A Digital Inclusion Ecosystem is a combination of programs and policies that meet a geographic community’s unique and diverse needs. Coordinating entities work together in an ecosystem to address all aspects of the digital divide, including affordable broadband, devices, and skills.

Indicators of a strong Digital Inclusion Ecosystem:

  • Existence of programs and policies addressing all aspects of the digital divide:
    • Affordable and subsidized broadband service options that meet the community’s needs 
    • Affordable and subsidized device ownership programs that meet the community’s needs
    • Multilingual digital literacy and digital skill trainings that meet the community’s needs
    • Hardware and software technical support
    • Digital navigation services to guide residents to the above services
  • Collaboration: Entities providing local digital inclusion services, policymakers, advocates, social service providers and community leaders co-create solutions in partnership with the community.

About This collaboration

Illinois is a leader in support for broadband expansion and digital equity, and libraries serve as critical partners in these efforts. CARLIIllinois Heartland Library System (IHLS), and Reaching Across Library System (RAILS) have joined together to build a cohesive statewide library voice related to role of libraries in digital equity and broadband funding. Illinois libraries of all types—public, academic, K-12, and special—cooperatively form a statewide fabric of support and services to school children, adult learners, retirees, college students, and every other type of resident. We want to make sure library voices are heard by broadband decision makers and ensure we have access to the robust technology resources we need.

Past Efforts

Read the open letters our organizations collectively submitted as public comment in response to the Illinois Office of Broadband’s plans for deploying federal funding through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program and Digital Equity Act:

BEAD Initial Proposal

Digital Equity Plan


Contact us if you have questions, ideas, or want to get involved.