The nationwide rush to go wireless appears poised to extend to its biggest city yet. Chicago is launching an effort to offer wireless broadband, city officials said Friday, jumping on the Wi-Fi bandwagon as similar initiatives proceed in Philadelphia, San Francisco and smaller cities.
Chicago has hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots in places like coffee shops, bookstores and libraries, where anyone can walk in, sit down and connect to the Web. Hoping to extend that wireless blanket to all 228 square miles, the city plans to ask technology companies this spring to submit proposals for the project.
While it’s too soon to say how the system would operate, the goal is to make Internet access “broad and affordable” for residents and heighten Chicago’s appeal for businesses and tourists alike, according to Chris O’Brien, the city’s chief information officer.
The city did not specify goals for how much the system would charge for access. In Philadelphia, EarthLink Inc. is building a citywide network that will charge a wholesale rate of $9 a month to Internet service providers that would then resell access to the public at an undetermined price.
“We think it’s important for residents of the city and tourists and businesses to have lots of different ways to connect,” O’Brien said. “For a city as big as Chicago, with the vibrant business community and diverse citizen base that we have, you want to make sure all kinds of technology are available to them as they work and enjoy entertainment options.”
If all goes smoothly, the system could be running as soon as 2007, O’Brien said. That would all but certainly leave the city behind Philadelphia, which hopes to have its entire system in place late this year or early next year. But the size of a Chicago network would dwarf Philadelphia’s planned 135-square-mile network or anything now in place.