According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago is unveiling the first portion of a plan to position Chicago for the digital age, expanding access within the city to ultra high speed internet via broadband. The high speed internet plan, called the Broadband Challenge, will partner the city government with private enterprises to bring low cost, gigabit speed internet to 15 emerging business zones in the city, centered on academic centers outside of the main Chicago Loop, as well as offering free Wi-Fi access in every City Park. In order to lure these private enterprises, the city will lease its own infrastructure, including unused fiber lines in Chicago Transit Authority subway tunnels, on favorable terms.
The program’s announcement comes with immediate action: free Wi-Fi will be available throughout Millennium Park from SilverIP Communications, a local company claiming to offer the fastest internet service in the United States. The goal of the whole project is to make Chicago one of the most connected cities in the whole world.
As it stands now, the plan has yet to be funded, and is more of a proposal than something that is guaranteed to happen. The city will not be making any financial commitment through tax money to the program other than the property and assets it already has and is willing to leverage, such as the unused CTA wire lines. The goal is to offer fast internet to areas of the city where startups can find cheap rent, such as the Randolph Market area in the West Loop. Other areas being considered are Bucktown, Wicker Park, Ravenswood Industrial Corridor, McCormick Place, Loyola University, and the Illinois Medical District and Illinois Institute of Technology.
Such initiatives have worked in smaller cities, but this is the first time a major American city of Chicago’s size has attempted such a move. Hopefully, if it is successful, others will follow suit.