Ald. Margaret Laurino Remarks to the Mayor's Council of Technology Advisors

November 6, 2007

November 6, 2007
It's a pleasure to be with you here this morning and I also applaud you for getting together on a regular basis to exchange ideas and come up with practical solutions.
Communication has advanced greatly with technology, but it doesn't work unless we talk to one another.
I was taught growing up to never take anything for granted.
That's very true of technology.  In fact, even with the technology that's used in our daily lives I sometimes take a step back just to absorb it.
I took typing in school.  Today kids take "keyboarding."  I use to roll the windows in my car up or down.  Now I hit a button and SLIDE them. 
When you go to the library, you look for books from their online catalog.  I still miss the card catalog at the library.
High tech used to be fax machines with thermal paper and cell phones the size of a brick.
Having grown up in an era when computers were only found in the largest of corporations, assessing technology today is almost like going into the future. 
But futuristic possibilities will always crash when we think of concepts in a vacuum. 
In 1966 when computers started shrinking in size because of integrated circuits, Time magazine wrote:
"Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop because women like to get out of the house, like to handle merchandise, like to be able to change their minds."
Fortunately for us, e-commerce became a reality anyway.
In fairness to Time magazine, remember that the first personal computer wouldn't come out for another nine years.   And THEN you had to assemble it yourself like something you'd buy at IKEA.
When the magazine writer looked at the possibility of e-commerce, he figured it would fail because he thought of it in a vacuum.  The writer neglected to consider that culture would evolve as rapidly as technology and the two become linked forever.
A few years ago, some technology people created a concept called "Civic Net."  The idea was to have high speed Internet link various Chicago communities.
It could have worked.  But it didn't happen.
While the technology was possible, the concept crashed because the technologists worked on it and thought about it in a vacuum.
They didn't look for community input or hold public meetings around the city.  They didn't get buy in from the Chicago City Council.  Or for that matter, even tell us about it.
Just like new products take marketing to get them into the stores and advertising for consumers to buy them, municipal technology concepts need the public and city government to make them a reality.
Last week, if you didn't want to come downtown, you could have watched the Chicago City Council meeting from your computer.
This video streaming wasn't something that just happened one day.  It was NOT a concept developed in a vacuum.  We worked on it for three years.
We did research. 
The Illinois General Assembly has done live video broadcasts for years.  We went down there to see exactly how it worked, what the reaction has been and what technology it would take to create it here.
We talked to the public, especially my city council colleagues. 
Some had to be convinced it wouldn't slow the proceedings.  Many saw it for what it was; Technology allowing us to become even more transparent about city government for the sake of our constituents and the people of Chicago.
There were many meetings and tests before the proceedings came online.
The results?  It is a huge success.  It was a concept that became reality because we worked together with technology, the public and government.
So what about Wi-Fi for the entire City of Chicago?
Well, we certainly did the background work.
The City Council introduced ordinances and formed the Chicago Wireless Task Force with myself and Ald. Burke as co-chairs.We held public meetings throughout the city and reported on their findings, as well as our recommendations.
We asked the technology experts in city government to put out a request for proposal to vendors and service providers.
Because of his commitment to the issue, Mayor Daley created The Advisory Council on Closing the Digital Divide and challenged us to "make recommendations to help ensure universal digital access and to improve community, educational, economic and other outcomes."  Chaired by Julia Stasch, Vice President of the MacArthur Foundation, with a top notch committee that included David Baker, Michael Krauss, and Scott Goldstein, we worked for more than a year to come up with recommendations that were creative and unique.  The Committee's work culminated in this report "The City That Networks."
We saw closing the digital divide as an essential part of Chicago's larger effort to secure its position as a preeminent global city. Unfortunately, we got hit with a new reality.  The business climate for municipal wireless changed.  Many of the companies that were at the forefront of the industry re-evaluated their business plans.  As a result, our plan for a municipal wireless network got shelved.
While we might have been disappointed with the outcome of the wireless RFP, we should look at this as an opportunity, not a defeat.  Maybe a public wireless network wasn't feasible for a city this size.  Perhaps we need to consider a bigger menu of high speed internet options, including Wi-Max and fiber networks
So where do we go from here?  What's next?
This is where you come in.  As I look around the room, I see the most tech-savvy people in Chicago.  I am challenging you to work with me and the Chicago City Council to move forward our agenda to close the digital divide.  Chicago is fast becoming the greenest city in the country.  What would Chicago look like if it became the most digitally connected city in the United States?
A first step might be to revisit the recommendations in The City That Networks report.  It is an exhaustive report that goes beyond what any other city in the country is currently undertaking.  The recommendations in this report offer a roadmap to making Chicago the most digital city in the country, and this report has been applauded nationwide.  I encourage you and your top level staff to begin implementing the recommendations in this report.
I've never worried about the techo-connected people on Michigan Avenue or Lincoln Park.  They have the resources -  their laptops and iPhones and Starbucks  - and will be fine.
Our concern has always been the families and children in DIS-connected neighborhoods like Austin and Englewood.  My worry is that we are already losing a generation of children who are being left behind in the digital age.  We still have small businesses losing their competitive edge because they can only connect to the internet using dial up services. 
I don't want any city residents left behind.  If we are to be successful in continuing to transform Chicago into a 21st Century global city it will be because we have provided the best technology for EVERYONE to have equal opportunities to be successful. 
I recently convened a meeting of a few of the nation's public technology experts to discuss Chicago's next steps.  Jim Baller, from Baller and Herbst, Dianah Neff and Greg Richardson, from Civitium, and Alan Shark, from the Public Technology Institute, came to Chicago to share their insights.  One of the ideas that evolved was to tie high speed internet access to our Olympic bid.
As I'm sure you're aware, the United States recently moved up to 24th place in worldwide broadband penetration, just behind the country of Estonia and our competitors for the 2016 Olympics.  Quite frankly, in this era of connectivity and globalization, the city that will be selected for the 2016 Olympics must have a strong technology backbone.  It's inconceivable that the Olympic Committee would select a location that cannot accommodate the digital needs of athletes, visitors and media from around the world.   
Now, when you brainstorm, remember that some good ideas will survive research and reality.  Others will not. 
Here's one to check out.
Last week, Wal-Mart announced that it would begin selling online and at 20 Illinois locations computers at $199 each. 
This could put an affordable computer into the hands of students in low-income households.  But we need to check out the hardware and software for credibility, durability and feasibility. And we need to provide training to the new computer users.
If you watched Conan O'Brien, he said what Wal-Mart doesn't tell you about the $199 computer is that it's "actually an Etch A Sketch taped to a toaster oven."
Above all, remember that we must work together technology experts, the public, city government and the city council.  Let's use our technology and communicate on a regular basis with each other.   
I am calling on the technology experts in this room to brainstorm to find new approaches and new applications to close the digital divide for everyone in Chicago.  I am making a commitment to you to be your advocate in the City Council.
So go out there and get your mouses moving.
Thank you.