Smile Politely

Introduction to UC2B

How did it start?

It all started with the ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) of 2009, which set aside $7.2 billion for broadband development across the nation. This money was split between RUS (Rural Utilities Service), receiving $2.5 billion, and NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration), receiving $4.7 billion. Under RUS, BIP (Broadband Initiatives Program) was created to give away their portion of the grants/loans. But we’re not concerned with that. What we’re interested in is NTIA’s program, BTOP (Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program) because that’s the program that granted Champaign-Urbana $22.5 million to build a fiber optic network.

What is UC2B?

UC2B is an intergovernmental consortium between UIUC and the cities of Champaign and Urbana, created to apply for funds to develop a cutting-edge broadband infrastructure in Champaign-Urbana.

UC2B sent three separate proposals to the BTOP program.

  • The first, known as the “infrastructure” or “below ground” proposal, was to build a fiber optic network and use it to provide connectivity to anchor institutions and areas of Champaign-Urbana where 40% or less of the population has internet access

  • The second, known as the “PCC” application, was to open 40 public computing centers for public access to the internet

  • The third, known as the “sustainable broadband adoption” application, was to develop training, education, and outreach programs to break down the digital divide

(Together, the second two proposals are known as the “above ground” proposals.)

The three UC2B applications were conceived as an interlocking system: the infrastructure proposal would build the system, and the other two would teach people to use it and ensure that UC2B makes real progress in closing the digital divide.

What was funded?

Out of those three applications, unfortunately only the infrastructure application was funded. Specifically, the federal government will be providing about 79% of the funding ($22.5 million) and local organizations will provide about 21% of the funding (the State provides a portion as well) to build this network that will connect about 143 “anchor institutions” and up to 2500 homes in the “underserved” areas of Champaign-Urbana. The list of local organizations that have agreed to contribute includes both city governments, the state government, the U of I, the CU Mass Transit District, the U-C Sanitary Department, Lincoln Trail Libraries, and both cities’ school systems. This list also includes the Champaign Telephone Company, the only private company allowed to contribute.

What will UC2B do?

According to the website (, UC2B will provide “fiber-optic ‘backbone’ infrastructure”, “‘fiber-to-the-premises’ (FTTP) connectivity directly to well over 150 Community Anchor Institutions throughout Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy and to households in several underserved neighborhoods in Champaign and Urbana. The website also states that the network “will enable improved access/support to health care, educational and recreational institutions, public safety and government agencies, and social service and religious organizations, as well as increased access to public computing centers, and a sustainable adoption and educational outreach program for vulnerable populations.”  Although the mission of UC2B includes helping people understand the benefits of new technologies and learn to use them, there is only funding to build the network, not to ensure that it will actually benefit the target populations. If UC2B is going to succeed in having a real impact on the local digital divide, existing community resources will have to step up to provide critical, comprehensive education and outreach.

The known roster of services will include 5mbps internet access for about $20/month. There may also be 100mbps to 1Gbps service for “in-network” uses, such as between users and local government and school websites. This could potentially be used for access to video of local government meetings, and other local communications.

The future network is also required (by the grant rules) to be an “open access network”. This means that ISPs (Internet Service Providers, such as Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Volo) will be able to provide services, such as data and voice, over the UC2B network in a competitive manner. In the spirit of Net Neutrality, the network is expected to treat all traffic and providers fairly. The UC2B Project team intends to provide a framework whereby any provider can easily deliver competitive services to any UC2B subscriber. It’s not entirely clear how this role will interact with UC2B’s role as an ISP.

This is a proposed service area map. Several amendments are being discussed, but attaining this pathway is the goal of the engineering firm The areas in yellow are the “underserved neighborhoods” which will receive FTTH service for subscribers (Fiber-to-the-home, or FTTH, means that optical fiber will be run right up to the homes in underserved neighborhoods that subscribe to the network).

What’s left to do?

There are many deep, critical questions that UC2B has yet to find answers to. For example:

  • How will UC2B compete with other providers in its target area, even though it has no track record, its services are similarly priced, it doesn’t offer TV or phone service, etc.?

  • How will UC2B as both a network and an ISP become sustainable while providing a fair open access network that stimulates competition?

  • How will UC2B stimulate local economic development and employment?

  • How will UC2B support its mission to close the digital divide through public computing centers and outreach programs, without significant funding?

  • How will UC2B improve the internet service adoption rate in the CU community?

The biggest challenge for UC2B is to avoid the “field of dreams” problem: Champaign-Urbana does not have a fleet of ghost IT heroes to inspire adoption, so it will need to do more than just build the infrastructure and hope users switch to it.

Who will answer these questions?

We need your help to make sure these new developments have a real, positive impact for all parts of this community!

The UC2B consortium has formed two committees to explore these issues and organize the policies, construction, and maintenance of the fiber optic network. The Policy Committee is the “board of directors” of UC2B. The Technical Committee helps the Policy Committee understand the technical implications of policies it is considering.

Throughout the process, the Broadband Access Committee (BAC), a subcommittee of the Champaign-Urbana Cable and Telecommunications Commission (CUCTTC), has also been at the center of debate in its role as a public advocate. According to the Champaign-Urbana Open Access Coalition, this committee is charged with “exploring the issue of Internet access in the two cities, particularly as it meets the needs of underserved and rural communities and neighborhoods.”

These committees are working hard to find solutions to the questions we posed above (and much more), but it’s up to us to band together as a community to guide their decisions. The community knows what it wants and needs, so we need to express ourselves to the policymakers. Attend some of the public meetings of the Policy Committee, Technical Committee, and Broadband Access Committee and keep an eye on the Chambana Broadband Connection’s Smile Politely series. We’ll help keep you informed about the project and its progress.

If you want to take a look at meeting minutes or agendas, check the following websites:

UC2B Official Website

UC2B Policy and Technical Boards


Also, check out our blog:

The Chambana Broadband Connection

Disclosure: Laura Allured and Ray Mitchell are employees of Volo.

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