Civic leaders call for city wireless network

November 14, 2005


The White Sox are world champions, but where is Chicago when it comes to wireless broadband access? Are we behind Philadelphia, San Francisco and even our neighbor to the north, Milwaukee?

A City Council task force co-chaired by Ald. Ed Burke (14th) and Margaret Laurino (39th) is looking at the issue. Burke and Laurino have done yeopeople's work pushing for improved Internet service for the neighborhoods. City of Chicago CIO Chris O'Brien is hot on the issue. The Metropolitan Planning Council's vice president for planning and policy, Scott Goldstein, is a longtime and thoughtful advocate.

Burke and Laurino recently concluded community hearings at Truman College, the West Side Learning Center and the South Shore Cultural Center. They heard a consistent message. "People want this service within their community," says Laurino. "If we are capable of bringing it to the neighborhoods, they are going to use it.

"Our goal is a wireless network from Rogers Park to Englewood. We're not tech specialists, but we know what the neighborhoods need. If you want to apply for a job at Jewel-Osco you have to get online. Teachers need to communicate with parents online."

The world is flat

In an increasingly flat world, fast, secure and inexpensive access to the Internet is as important to Chicago's economy as access to electricity, natural gas, clean water and waste disposal. It's a good sign that local politicians such as Burke and Laurino recognize technology infrastructure is important to neighborhood business success.

"We want to make sure broadband is thought of like roads and other infrastructure," says Goldstein of the Planning Council. "We need a policy to assure the infrastructure is available. The city should work with the private sector."

O'Brien, the city's CIO, advocates improved Wi-Fi access.

"This is an idea with merit," he says. "If we spend the right amount of time talking with people in the community, we'll find the right model that uniquely fits Chicago."

Where's the effort heading? Watch for an RFP to be issued by the city seeking a pilot project to expand Wi-Fi access in targeted neighborhoods. Then watch for a proposal to put a Wi-Fi canopy over the entire city.

"Milwaukee is rolling out their Wi-Fi program," says Laurino. "It's getting too close to home when Milwaukee is talking about Wi-Fi."

In a world that's flat, where Chicago companies compete with firms from Bangalore and Beijing, it's important all Chicagoans have Internet access. Thanks to Burke, Laurino, O'Brien and Goldstein, the groundwork has been laid for Mayor Daley to create a public/private partnership that assures wireless Internet availability.

Nonstop to Delhi

Speaking of a flat world, Chicago's tech community is growing closer to India. Tuesday, American Airlines inaugurates non-stop service between O'Hare and New Delhi. Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center President David Weinstein will be on board, along with World Business Chicago Executive Director Paul O'Connor, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Roper and Economic Club President Grace Barry.

TiE-Midwest President Adarsh Arora and Silicon Valley Bank exec Bob Blee are opening doors for Weinstein to link Chicago's entrepreneurs with those in India. Weinstein aims to make Chicago a gateway to the U.S. for India's entrepreneurs.

Bits & bytes

Kathy Button Bell, chief marketing officer for Emerson, the technology and engineering solutions company, hits town Thursday to speak at the Business Marketing Association lunch at the Metropolitan Club. ... SunTimes Business Editor Dan Miller moderates the Executives' Club luncheon panel on affordable energy Thursday at the Chicago Hilton and Towers. Panelists are Exelon CEO John Rowe, Natural Resources Defense Council director Ralph Cavanagh and U.S. Department of Energy deputy assistant secretary David Conover.

Opportunity for female CIOs is the topic of Wednesday's Society for Information Management lunch at the Mid America Club. Headliners include Bally Total Fitness CIO Gail Holmberg, Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority CIO Ellen Barry and Abbott Group Vice President for IT Sue Leboza.

Accelper Consulting President Praveen Gupta speaks on catalyzing the innovation process at tomorrow night's MIT Enterprise Forum at the offices of Gardner Carton & Douglas.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.



 ©2005 Marion Consulting Partners