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Illinois Innovation Index Analyzes Broadband Access and Economic Growth

Broadband internet connections, which provide faster web browsing and downloading speeds with no dial-in process required, allow businesses and individuals access to massive amounts of information from around the world. The May edition of the Illinois Innovation Index focuses on broadband access and how it supports innovation through knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Improving the ease of access to information supports GO TO 2040's recommendation to create a culture of innovation in the region. Understanding the region and state's current standing and recent trends in broadband access is important for policymakers and other stakeholders looking to spur growth and innovation. The Index focuses on the direct link between broadband Internet and economic growth, which has also been a policy area of focus for the Brookings Institution.

The May Index shows the variance among states in terms of broadband availability and subscribers. Often, states with the highest broadband access rates are geographically smaller with relatively small rural populations, such as Connecticut or Massachusetts. Illinois ranks around the national average with 69 percent of its households having broadband in 2010. This number grew from 52 percent in 2007, which was also close to the national average rate at the time. Illinois broadband speeds are highest in the northeast, while in the southern and western parts of the Illinois broadband speeds are slower, with sometimes no access at all.

While Illinois is about in the middle of the pack nationally when it comes to household broadband availability, one area where it does stand out is commercial broadband utilization. Commercial broadband connections in the state are growing at twice the national average, and Illinois has the third highest percentage increase of business subscribers from 2008 to 2010 of any state in the nation. The steep increase of Illinois businesses using broadband connections may bode well for future innovation in the state.

Looking forward, mobile broadband networks (which support smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices) seem poised to capture an increasing share of future users. The Brookings Institution projects that mobile networks will be responsible for upwards of 80 percent of all new broadband subscriptions in the next few years. Not only will mobile broadband lead to new subscribers, it will also create demand for innovations in mobile commercial applications, which may result in more high-tech jobs.

Future support for broadband deployment should recognize the increasing role of mobile broadband access and ensure that broadband infrastructure investments are compatible with emerging mobile networks. Already, significant public resources are devoted to broadband: of the $4.7 billion allocated nationally under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to increase broadband access, over $445 million has been invested in Illinois. To make the most of public investments in broadband access, policymakers and regional stakeholders should focus on mobile broadband adoption to support emerging technologies and business creation; expand rural access across the state; and maintain Illinois' edge in commercial connectivity.

The data behind the May Index, including business connections, residential connections, percent of businesses with connections, percent of residents with connections, commercial subscriptions, and total connections are available on MetroPulse.

Read more about the Index and measuring innovation in an article from CMAP in the Daily Herald Business Ledger.