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Aurora receives $1 million grant  to expand fiber optic network

Gov. PQuinn talks classroom East AurorMagnet Academy announce $1 milliseed investment make Auror'Gigabit Community' bring high speed internet local schools

Gov. Pat Quinn talks to a classroom the East Aurora Magnet Academy to announce a $1 million seed investment to make Aurora a "Gigabit Community" and bring high speed internet to local schools and businesses on Tuesday, October 16, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 18, 2012 6:45AM

AURORA — Gov. Pat Quinn was in Aurora Tuesday to announce a $1 million state grant to OnLight Aurora, a local organization working to spread fiber optic communications networks throughout the city.

The $1 million is an Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge award, a statewide competition to establish ultra-high speed broadband networks across Illinois.

The $1 million will help connect the city’s fiber optic network to education, business and health care sites.

Quinn made the announcement Tuesday afternoon at the East Aurora Magnet Academy.

The state’s investment will help connect Aurora’s fiber network to more than 12,000 end users.

The investment also will create 2,500 jobs over the next five years, according to the governor.

Quinn said OnLight Aurora’s application for state grant funding was “outstanding.”

“We have to make sure when it comes to ultra-high speed Internet that we see the possibilities,” Quinn said. “Possibilities for law enforcement, public safety, possibilities for health care and definitely for education.”

Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said the state grant will help OnLight Aurora to close the digital divide within the city by capitalizing on the existing fiber optic network.

“We know that technology has the potential to revolutionize our educational system and it is an absolute must for successful companies of all sizes,” Weisner said.

The grant will also help OnLight Aurora leverage an additional $1 million in public and private matching funds, Alderman Rick Mervine said.

Mervine, 8th Ward, who serves on the OnLight Aurora board, said the priority is to get the city’s public school districts connected to the network, along with private schools and universities. Connecting the city’s hospitals, other health care entities, commercial corridors and major non-profits is also a priority, he said.

“Each of these entities that we’re connecting has to pay part of their way as well,” Mervine said.

Quinn said the technology investment is as important as traditional infrastructure projects like roads and bridges.

“The best way to have faith is to make investments in this infrastructure,” Quinn said. “It’s not a highway, it’s an information super highway we’re investing in.”

OnLight Aurora is an independent, non-profit organization that aims to leverage the connectivity of Aurora’s fiber optic network for non-city use.

Mark McCoy, an Aurora business owner who serves on the OnLight Aurora board, said that high speed bandwidth is the “critical fourth utility” to businesses.

Aurora was one of 41 communities that applied for the Gigabit Communities funding. The award to OnLight Aurora is the first in a series of Challenge award grants that will be announced in the coming weeks. Quinn was at the University of Chicago Tuesday morning to announce a $2 million Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge award.

Grant applicants were required to provide a plan to connect at least 1,000 end users to an ultra high-speed broadband network.

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