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Broadband expansion is potential use of pandemic relief money in Normal

Ryan Denham

The Town of Normal is still asking for public feedback on how to use federal pandemic relief money, but City Manager Pam Reece said some themes are beginning to emerge. The nearly $11 million in American Rescue Plan money for the town can be portioned to several buckets. One of those, Reece said, is public health.

"COVID type of relief, perhaps the Community Healthcare Clinic, perhaps behavioral and mental health programming," said Reece.

Reece said the town also wants to know what people think about the idea of expanding the broadband network in town to meet educational needs of under-served populations. She said the town is not in the broadband business, so that effort would require a public-private partnership — with Metronet, or some other broadband provider.

"In conversations with Unit 5 schools, it has been brought to light the challenges some families face. Not everything can be solved with hot spots," Reece told WGLT's Sound Ideas.

The school district has a supply of hot spots it distributes to families that do not have high-speed internet service. This is often of particular use in rural areas.

The term infrastructure can mean several things and broadband can fall under that bucket, said Reece. It's not just water and sewer.

She said the town is asking for online feedback on that possibility and others, including offsetting utility costs.

Reece said the town is unlikely to do what Chicago has done in setting aside money to build community wealth and shared equity programs such as housing co-ops and community land trusts.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.