Rahm's broadband plan draws lots of interest

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to position Chicago for the digital age has received a warm reception from telecom providers, with more than a score of companies, including industry leaders, seriously kicking tires on the idea of providing ultra-high-speed broadband and expanded free Wi-Fi service here.

According to the city, 24 companies responded by last week's deadline and put in a preliminary pitch detailing their thoughts in a process technically known as a Request for Information. Included among RFI responders were industry giants such as Cisco, Alcatel, AT&T, Verizon, Level 3 and Motorola Solutions, as well as smaller local-based groups like the Center for Neighborhood Technology, the Chicago Computer Society and Network of Woodlawn.

The city is releasing few details of what those firms ran up the electronic flag pole, saying that the firms proposed everything from using city light poles to hang fiber optic cable to expediting the permitting process. But officials say they're quite content with the big turnout — and with the quality of the responses.

The idea behind what the mayor calls his Broadband Initiative is that Chicago will grow in the 21st century if it keeps its communication networks in world-caliber shape, much like it depended on a top transportation network of roads, railroads and airports in the last century.

The city specifically is dangling the possibility of leveraging its own assets — space in CTA tunnels and alongside sewer lines, for instance — to those who can install gigabit-speed broadband, make it affordable in underserved areas and establish free Wi-Fi in parks and public spaces.

Officials are pushing gigabit service in neighborhoods in and around the central area and near academic centers where researchers need extremely fast Wi-Fi speeds. Included are the former Michael Reese Hospital site, Bucktown and Wicker Park, the Ravenswood Industrial Corridor and the McCormick Place neighborhood, as well as areas near the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Chicago, the Chicago Medical Center, the Illinois Institute of Technology and the South Loop, which is home to Columbia College and Roosevelt University.

The initiative already has netted one prize: an agreement in which free Wi-Fi is offered throughout Millenium Park downtown.

The city is likely to formally advertise for bidders sometime soon. But, according to a spokesman, it's also keeping other options open, such as forming a team to review various proposals and come up with a favorite.

Read more: http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20121128/BLOGS02/121129846/rahms-broadband-plan-draws-lots-of-interest#ixzz2DdBkqrvB 
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