Solutions vs. Obstacles:
Federal Bureaucracy Stifles Chadwick’s Bid for Fiber Optic Inclusion
By Tom Kocal | Prairie Advocate News
A federally financed $79 million dollar fiber optic installation project in Northwest Illinois has done nothing but create a “moving target” of solutions vs. obstacles for Alan Skoog and supporters of the fiber project being extended to Chadwick.
“The tiny village of Chadwick, population 551 people, has been overlooked in this most important community survival installation,” said Skoog, owner of Skoog Landscape & Design in Chadwick and Sterling.
After two meetings with Dr. John Lewis on November 9 and 16, Skoog’s frustration with federal agencies is apparent.
“It is my opinion this occurred originally because of an oversight or error by the design engineer,” Skoog stated in a Nov. 21 letter to Lewis, a professor at Northern Illinois University and chairman of the Illinois Fiber Resources Group (iFiber) board. “This error was brought to my attention on October 23, 2011. On October 25 we began requesting this error to be corrected with iFiber.”
After their Nov. 16 meeting, Lewis responded with a letter to Skoog, cc’d to Congressmen Donald Manzullo and Bobby Schilling, State Senator Tim Bivins, State Representative Jim Sacia, Chadwick Village President Zelma McNeal, and Blackhawk Hills Regional Council representative Daniel Payette.
“iFiber remains interested in examining possible ways to serve Chadwick. As we discussed last week, delays in the route change request submitted to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in June have forced iFiber to go back to its original route; one that does not include Chadwick.”
In June of 2012, then revised in August, NIU proposed a new, underground, fiber optic cable route between Mount Carroll and Milledgeville that primarily followed IL Route 40. This new route replaced the segment between Lanark and Milledgeville in order to connect “Community Anchor Institutions” (CAI’s) in Chadwick. The new Mt. Carroll-to-Milledgeville proposal added a mere 4.5 miles to the project.
Lewis continued, stating that the decision not to extend the route an additional 4.5 miles “was not reached easily or without careful review of iFiber’s options. Everyone at iFiber is keenly aware of your interest in the project and what it means for the community. Ultimately, it was a business and operations decision based on the tight construction constraints under which iFiber is working. To delay the project further while waiting for NTIA’s approval of the route change to Chadwick would put the entire project in jeopardy.”
Lewis said that iFiber continues to examine possible ways to serve Chadwick. “We are submitting another round of alternate route changes to the NTIA in January. iFiber’s plans are to include a route request change to include 400 megabit commercial grade wireless service to Chadwick to serve Community Anchor Institutions. iFiber needs the support of Chadwick’s CAIs in order to move this request forward, as that support is critical to the sustainability of iFiber in the future.”
If iFiber is not concerned with the project being delayed further with another alternate route submission in January, why are they concerned with a plan to include Chadwick with underground fiber that was suggested back in June? Plus, it is apparent that those with the largest stake in this project are fully supportive of the 4.5 mile extension, but not iFiber.
“We have met with the chairman of the iFiber board on two occasions and had frequent communications,” said Skoog. “Additionally Illinois state representatives Bivins, Morthland, and Sacia have attended presentations in Chadwick and subsequently wrote letters of support (for the August plan). Additionally, U.S. Congressman Bobby Schilling met with representatives from our village and wrote a letter of support. Additionally staff people from Schilling’s and Morthland’s office attended several of our presentations and meetings in support of our cause. Additionally, the neighboring village of Milledgeville’s [Village Board] voted in favor of our request, which was not even requested by our group. The Carroll County board voted unanimously in favor of our request. Of course all of Chadwick’s representative boards are in favor. I can furnish you a pdf consisting of 43 pages of supporting letters and petitions that were sent to Washington.”
Skoog adds that “All of this support on the local level, as well as that by state and federal representatives, has lead to various iFiber levels of installation approval - and finally taken away. The final reason was that the bureaucrats in Washington haven’t given their approval after sitting on the request since June.”
Skoog lists a series of events where solutions proposed by Skoog were closely followed by obstacles presented by Lewis and iFiber that started with the fact that Chadwick was initially not included. In June, iFiber had applied to NTIA to include fiber to Chadwick; In August, iFiber was still waiting to hear from NTIA; In mid-October, Skoog was told that they would not get fiber because the state of Illinois was going to rebuild culverts along Rt. 40 - at some future date.
“It was then that we suggested a cheaper, more viable solution of installing the fiber on Beede and Taylor Roads, which was a shorter route. I am still confused as to why Rt. 40 was selected, then rejected. They want to install the more costly, less desirable wireless system.”
Skoog also said that he was told that iFiber was a non-profit organization that did not have to abide by the Freedom of Information Act, and therefore would not be obligated to supply information regarding the alleged lack of funds and other data.
“I think this is another of another case of bureaucratic egotism and an example of big government bullying small town USA,” Skoog stated. “This is just a brief overview of over one year of working with a non-responsive bureaucracy.”
The $69 million federal grant is administered by Northern Illinois University and is a collaboration of representatives from NIU, LaSalle County, North Central Illinois Council of Governments, the City of Rockford, Boone County and Blackhawk Hills RC&D. iFiber’s partners are working to expand broadband access throughout a 900-mile fiber network in Boone, Carroll, Jo Daviess, LaSalle, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago counties.
Among Chadwick’s institutions that would directly benefit from the broadband service include the school as well as its administration office, Chadwick library and city government office, police, fire, 911, MABAS, State of Illinois Driver’s License Facility, U.S. Post Office, the township office, and the business community.