Chicago Plans Broadband, WiFi Investments In Public Parks And Tech Zones
September 25, 2012

Chicago Plans Broadband, WiFi Investments In Public Parks And Tech Zones

John Neumann for - Your Universe Online

A thriving tech community has sprouted up in Chicago´s River North neighborhood with several high-tech companies relocating, including Motorola, now part of Google, to Chicago´s storied Merchandise Mart.

With the influx of techies to the area, Chicago´s Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to invest in broadband and WiFi infrastructure to new tech zones as well as to under-served areas throughout the city, reports Kevin Fitchard for GigaOm.

“Chicago will be one of the most connected cities in the world,” said Emanuel. “The establishment of a world-class broadband network in Chicago will create thousands of jobs and dramatically improve educational opportunities, economic development, health care services, and general quality of life throughout the city.”

The city will seek input from the public to build the network and make sure it is customized for residents and companies. According to local business news site Crain´s Chicago Business, other broadband access will be available from Chicago´s municipal infrastructure, including utility and light poles as well as dark fiber already strung under the Chicago Transit´s authorities elevated rails and within its subway tunnels.

Emanuel said his first goal is to build a network infrastructure offering internet service at “gigabit” speeds, about 100 times faster than a basic cable modem.

Google built such a network in Kansas City, Mo., called Google Fiber, that bypassed the local cable and phone companies and there are a lot of cities looking for Google to expand such a service into their own towns.

Mayer Emanuel however isn´t betting the farm Chicago will be its next benefactor, writes Ameet Sachdev for the Chicago Tribune. Google Fiber was not specifically mentioned in his speech, and instead announced that Chicago would issue a request for proposal asking any interested company, local university or other organization to submit ideas for implementing all or parts of the broadband rollout.

Emanuel said he anticipates members of Chicago´s growing startup and entrepreneurial community would play a key role in contributing ideas. The news release did not indicate how much it would cost to build such an infrastructure.

Chicago isn´t exactly starving for broadband either. Because of its central role in commodities and futures exchange markets (Where did you think pork bellies were traded?).

Chicago´s downtown business, with its central role in commodities and futures exchange markets, has some of the fastest internet access in the world, which the new River North tech community is tapping into. However, Emanuel´s aim is to convert industrial zones lining Chicago´s miasma of waterways and railroad tracks – once devoted to slaughtering livestock, packing meat and manufacturing cocktail weenies — into high-tech zones.

Also, the educational institutions, around which tech communities like to congregate, are well outside of the downtown core.

Tech firms such as Google and Verizon are making major investments but analysts are not sure they are paying off yet. Verizon is spending an estimated $23 billion to connect homes and business directly to its fiber system called FiOS. It charges $70 per month for download speeds of 15 megabits per second, less than 2 percent the speed of a gigabit.