Special Report: Chicago Broadband Challenge




Chicago GraphicOn September 24, 2012 Mayor Emanuel announced an ambitious broadband initiative with a three key missions:

  1. Build gigabit last-mile fiber infrastructure in 15 “innovation zones” located in commercial and industrial corridors throughout the city, feeding Chicago’s growing startup community.
  2. Bring cheap broadband access to underserved neighborhoods in the city and develop training programs to teach residents in those areas the “digital skills” necessary to put that access to use.
  3. Launch a network of free Wi-Fi hotspots throughout city parks, plazas and other public spaces.
  • A website and online campaign has been launched at www.cityofchicago.org/broadband
  • Dubbed the “Chicago Broadband Challenge,” the city has issued a request for information asking any interested company, local university or other organization to submit ideas for implementing all or parts of the broadband rollout.
  • Two key questions are posed to the public:
  1.  How the City can best make use of its existing broadband infrastructure and potential uses for future expansion of high-speed broadband access citywide?
  2. How and where the City should make these critical infrastructure improvements? 

Chicago’s Approach- Why and How:

  • The idea came to Emanuel through Google’s Eric Schmidt, who suggested the upgrade be coordinated alongside the city's overhaul of its aging water and sewer system. Some say Chicago is angling to become the next candidate for Google Fiber.
  • The city must first secure commitments from companies that would be willing to install and pay for the new upgrades. 
  • The city is willing to offer some of its own unused fiber resources on a favorable lease-- everything from utility and light poles to dark fiber already strung under the Chicago Transit Authority elevated rails and within its subway tunnels.
  • This isn’t the first attempt to light up Chicago - Emanuel’s mayoral predecessor Richard Daley proposed an ambitious plan to blanket the entire city in Wi-Fi, but after several false starts the project was killed in 2007.
  • While Chicago’s downtown business & financial core has some of the fastest internet access in the world, Emanuel’s aim is to convert industrial zones lining Chicago’s waterways and railroad tracks into high-tech zones. Also, the educational institutions around which tech communities like to congregate are well outside of the downtown core.


Mayor Emanuel Announces Chicago Broadband Challenge

PDF of Request for Information

Inspired by Google, Chicago pursues Gigabit broadband

City plans free Wi-Fi in all parks, public spaces

Chicago aims for Internet access in parks, underserved neighborhoods

Editorial: Digital investment adds muscle to big shoulders

Big-city wi-fi efforts so far have failed to make a connection

Telecom providers like Emanuel's high-speed Internet expansion

Image source: Chicago Sun Times

Tags: chicago, chicago broadband challenge, rahm emanuel, startups, utilities

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