GovBytes: Municipal Wireless Networks: Next Stop Chicago?

What would it take for a city to be able to call itself “one of the most livable” in America? Some qualifications that come to mind include: quality transportation infrastructure, affordable housing and utility options, schools that prepare children for bright futures, clean open spaces for enjoying the natural world, zero crime, friendly neighbors… the list of essentials goes on and on. But how about a total coverage wireless network zone covering an entire city? Unlikely as this may sound, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is exploring what it would take to establish total connectivity in his quest to make Chicago a highly livable city.

Chicago Might Try Again For Municipal Wireless

The plan includes turning the city’s traffic light poles and street light poles into “smart poles,” and would also ideally provide unbroken internet access to every inch of the city — including underground in the subway system. Chicago looked into the feasibility of such a plan in the late 2000’s, but did not pursue implementation when it was determined that the cost of establishing a total coverage network did not justify its potential good.

Quoted in a recent Guardian article, Emanuel says that it is Chicago’s obligation as a leading international city to pursue this grand scale plan. “There are 100 cities in the world that drive the creativity, the economy, the world GDP, the culture — and Chicago’s one of those 100. The decisions we make here in the next two to three years will determine whether Chicago 20 or 30 years from now stays in that 100 club or veers off track.”

The list of American cities that have already implemented some version of complete wifi coverage is small, but growing. Boston, Philadelphia, Albany, Denver, and Minneapolis round out the list of largest cities who have completed coverage projects. The real question about Chicago’s attempt to join this list is whether or not it will join the list of cities who provide connectivity services to their taxpayers for free, or whether the service will require a logon fee for its users.

Are municipal wireless networks a good product for governments to provide?

Read about a smaller California city that has benefitted from taxpayer funded total coverage municipal wifi: Free Wi-Fi, Comparing (Refurbished) Apples to Oranges

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