City Council News

Voice of the People (Letter): Sharing Wi-Fi

Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th), Chairman, Committee on
Economic,, Capital and Technology Development, Co-chair, Chicago
Wireless Task Force, Chicago Tribune

March 4, 2006
Tribune staff reporter Jon Van's recent articles on Wi-Fi adequately
covered the technical aspects of providing a wireless network for the
City of Chicago ("It's a Wi-Fi kind of town; Chicago seeks proposals
for citywide Internet access," Page 1, Feb. 17, and "Plentiful Wi-Fi
presence could obstruct city's wireless quest," Business, Feb. 21).
The heart of the broadband coverage, however, was lacking in the Tribune's stories.
The real benefit of a technology is how it serves society as a
whole, not just business, the wealthy or the techie, whose laptop and
latest accoutrements can get him or her a signal anytime he or she is
within sight of a Starbucks. Although broadband Internet access is
currently available in many parts of the city, it does not reach all
communities.
Furthermore it does not appear that many of these economically poor
neighborhoods will be linked up anytime soon if left solely to
bottom-line-driven business interests.
As chairman of the Chicago City Council's Committee on Economic,
Capital and Technology Development, we formed the Chicago Wireless Task
Force in 2005.
I serve as a co-chair, along with Ald. Edward Burke (14th).
We held neighborhood hearings last year and several themes emerged.
Among them was that the city needed to address issues more than
simply providing access to broadband Internet. We had to consider the
affordability and utility of it to low-income consumers.
From the beginning, there was a concern that Wi-Fi technology should
be shared with the most underserved of our city's population.
Our goal was to get this into neighborhoods like Englewood and Austin.
We didn't need to worry about Michigan Avenue and Lincoln Park.
Based on the hearings and research, the task force is advancing its
first recommendation, a request for proposals to equipment suppliers
and service providers.
We are also on record as saying we want the strategy to promote
access to affordable broadband for all communities, including the
underserved. Inclusion of all Chicago and its neighborhoods is the
heart of providing Wi-Fi for the city in a 21st Century world.