|May 10, 2012 --
The small community of Bluford is located in the remote Southwest corner of Illinois. It has a population of 763 people, and a per capita income of $18,829. The community was lacking what many people take for granted; high-speed internet services, and was unlikely to get anyone to provide this service. Small, economically challenged communities are not attractive to many service providers because they are not considered a profitable venture.
The Mayor of Bluford, Bill Henderson, and the CEO of Mt. Vernon Net, Inc., John Scrivner, knew that to take Bluford into the future broadband service was essential. Together they established a broadband taskforce, setting a vision for the future and outlining how technology could revive the village’s economy.
According to Scrivner “Bill Henderson's work in this was key to helping us make this happen. The whole town really stepped up to the plate.” Scrivner also noted that "One of the requirements of receiving this grant was to involve the community in showing that there was a need for broadband and that it was not available. I called on the local Boy Scouts [Troop 103] to help. A broadband survey was created. The Scouts knocked on every door in town. They filled out the surveys and got over 100 surveys completed in 1 day. The data was invaluable in helping to meet the requirements of the grant. The Scouts truly helped fully involve the community in bringing broadband to their town through these surveys."
How Rural Development Helped:
Through a USDA Rural Development Community Connect broadband grant awarded in 2003 totaling $309,703, Mt. Vernon.Net Inc. has been able to bring high-speed internet service to Bluford, Illinois. The project created a wireless network and provides a community center housed with ten computers for all of the community to use for free. All essential critical facilities including: police, emergency rescue, and schools will receive two years of free internet service. The goal was to provide residents the opportunity to telecommute from their homes, and businesses the ability to not only function effectively, but to add e-commerce options needed to compete world-wide. Students would be able to download class work from class websites and research their homework more efficiently. Not to mention that the police, fire, and emergency crews would be able to receive real-time updates, providing a higher level of public safety.
Mt. Vernon.Net Inc. began offering service to the town and provided the required two (2) years of free service to the essential critical facilities soon after winning the grant. They had initially hoped to attract 130 residential and business customers. At the end of the grant Mt. Vernon.Net Inc. has 140 customers receiving broadband service and in January 2011 has grown to more than 200 customers.
After connecting the schools to broadband, as required by the grant, Mr. Scrivner got a call from the elementary school. One of their students needed some assistance. A second grader at their school had been diagnosed with leukemia. He was going to have to undergo a bone marrow transplant and several rounds of chemotherapy. This can be a life threatening procedure, and leaves the patient with little to no immune system. The little boy knew he would not be able to return to school that year. His greatest fear was being held back in school and not being able to continue on with his classmates. The school was hoping that Mt. Vernon Net could help. With grant funds, Mt. Vernon Net employees connected a video camera and audio equipment in the boy’s classroom.
They then wired the boy’s home with internet service and connected audio equipment, enabling two-way communications. Today that little boy is alive and doing well. He was even able to complete the school year on schedule and is continuing his education with his classmates.
This one grant made a difference in lives of the citizens of Bluford, Illinois. Rural residents and businesses are now receiving technology that is available to their urban counterparts. Two businesses a grain elevator company and a utility pole distribution center in Bluford depend on the broadband to maintain their operations. “One little boy fought a battle for his life and to continue his schooling with his classmates and won.” And the CEO of Mt. Vernon.Net Inc., John Scrivner, felt this was one of the most positive experiences of his life and that this grant can make a difference. He plans to meet with the RUS Illinois general field representative to explore future USDA opportunities for his business. The company has just installed two towers to reach the remote rural areas of the community.
For more information on the Telecom Program or any of its success stories, contact Jessica Mailander at 202-720-0698 or Jessica.Mailander@wdc.usda.gov