Eric Morris, 23, of Chicago works on his laptop using free Wi-Fi at the city's… (José M. Osorio, Chicago…)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled an ambitious plan to establish the city as a hub for ultra-fast Internet service and provide free Internet access in public spaces. The city kicked off its Chicago Broadband Challenge by turning on free Wi-Fi in Millennium Park on Monday.
"Chicago will be one of the most connected cities in the world," Emanuel said. "The establishment of a world-class broadband network in Chicago will create thousands of jobs and dramatically improve educational opportunities, economic development, healthcare services and general quality of life throughout the city."
Emanuel said the city will seek input from the public via the Chicago Broadband Challenge website to build the network and ensure that it is customized for residents and companies. Any individual, company, student, nonprofit or community group can respond to the broadband challenge, informally through the website or as part of formal proposals the city will be soliciting from companies, universities and other organizations.
Emanuel said his first goal is to build a network infrastructure that will offer Internet service at gigabit speeds, which are about 100 times faster than a basic cable modem. Google Inc. built such a network in Kansas City, Mo., that bypassed the local cable and phone companies. Although Google is selling its broadband service to consumers, Emanuel would like to focus the ultra-fast connections in commercial and industrial areas, which he called "innovation zones."
A news release did not indicate how much it would cost to build the infrastructure network.
Companies such as Google and Verizon Communications Inc. are making major investments but analysts are unsure whether they are paying off yet. Verizon is spending an estimated $23 billion to connect homes and businesses directly to its fiber system called FiOS. It charges $70 per month for download speeds of 15 megabits per second, less than 2% the speed of a gigabit, according to USA Today.