Google to supply two Chicago parks with Wi-Fi

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Chicago’s Garfield Park and South Shore Cultural Center, two of the city’s business parks, will soon be able to offer guests Wi-Fi Internet service, thanks to Google.

The wireless service will be completely free to users as part of Google’s sponsorship. Google will also fund the construction of the network and finance monthly maintenance costs for up to three years.

“I will continue to work to ensure the entire City of Chicago is one of the most connected cities in the world,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “By increasing the access to high-speed Internet in Chicago homes, businesses and public places, we are fortifying the city’s force in the global economy.”

The Google Wi-Fi sponsorship at Garfield Park and South Shore Cultural Center is the next step of the mayor’s Broadband Challenge initiative, which aims to expand access to high-speed Internet in targeted commercial corridors, underserved neighborhoods, parks and public spaces.

The Broadband Challenge, which Emanuel originally announced in September 2012, seeks to create a gigabit-speed fiber network in targeted commercial and industrial corridors, establish free wireless service in parks and public spaces, and increase accessibility and affordability of Internet service in underserved areas across the city.

To support these efforts, the city is leveraging assets, including existing city-owned fiber; right-of way access to freight tunnels and sewers; coordination with planned city construction work to modernize water and sewer infrastructure; and other forms of investment.

Previous deals are reflective of this approach.

Just last month, the City Council approved a plan to acquire more than eight miles of fiber optic cables in support of Chicago’s broadband infrastructure expansion efforts.

That deal, a transaction between the City of Chicago and Lisle, Illinois-based telecommunications network operator ExteNet Systems, Inc., enables the city to acquire 42,000 feet of fiber optic cables in lieu of $1.3 million in right-of-way fees over the next 15 years. ExteNet will fund the installation of the city-owned fiber as it installs its own fiber optic network.

This acquired fiber will be used for the city’s own needs, such as providing network connectivity to city buildings in close proximity to the ExteNet-installed fiber. In some cases, this will save money by canceling existing telecommunications services.

In July, Emanuel and the Chicago Park District announced five city beaches will offer free Wi-Fi to visitors. Beachgoers are able to access free high-speed Wi-Fi at North Avenue, Osterman/Hollywood, Montrose, Foster and Rainbow beaches.

Through a partnership with Cisco and Everywhere Wireless, which began in May, the Chicago Park District identified five beach locations with existing infrastructure that accommodates Wi-Fi connectivity. The connectivity is being provided by placing wireless infrastructure on existing buildings, including condo and apartment buildings nearby the selected beaches.

Depending upon the success of the pilot, the Chicago Park District and Everywhere Wireless will consider continuing at the current locations and expanding to the other beaches. Everywhere Wireless will pursue sponsorship to cover the cost of future expansion.

Additionally, free wireless service has been available at Millennium Park since September 2012, through a partnership with Silver Communications.

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