CivicNet, first recommended to the City of Chicago
in 1999 by the Metropolitan Planning Council, Northwestern University, and
the Mayor's Council of Technology Advisors, has been stalled in a series
of procurement procedures over the past three years. In all, a Request for
Information, Request for Qualifications and Request for Proposals have been
released — all to positive responses from applicants seeking to provide expanded
broadband services to the City of Chicago and related agencies.
Once thought of as primarily a means to attract high performance broadband
infrastructure to all parts of the City, pooling the purchasing power of City
agencies can also reduce overall expenses. In particular, City staff have
floated the idea of only moving forward with improving government services, and
not addressing the "open network" that would encourage providers to seek
opportunities to carry private traffic — particularly in areas that are
underserved for telecommunications.
MPC Board member and Technology Working Group Chair Craig Watson spoke out in the
press to encourage the City to move forward. On Dec. 12, 2003, Crain's
Chicago Business printed a letter to the editor co-signed by Watson and MPC
President MarySue Barrett. The letter asserts "not a nickel of government
spending would be used to support this "open network." To the contrary,
the volume generated by the open, private side of the network provides the
incremental revenue that makes possible the reduced overall costs for government
telecom services. This is a win-win."
On Jan. 15, 2004, in an interview by Dave Lundy in the Chicago Sun
-Times, Watson was asked, "how important is CivicNet to the
economic vitality of the City?" He answered: "on a 1 to 10 scale, I'd give it
an 8+. I mean it's not an issue for Boeing. But CivicNet is a huge issue
for small businesses and technology companies that have to decide whether to stay
in Chicago. If a company has to worry about whether they can send their
designs across town, they're not going to stay."
MPC continues to work with City officials to restart this project. The Council is also seeking new ways of moving
forward with CivicNet's key objectives, to ensure that the City: 1) uses taxpayer dollars
efficiently; 2) along with related agencies have adequate services to conduct their business,
which is increasingly dependent on broadband communications; and 3) seeks ways to encourage
providers to provide needed infrastructure in underserved areas that are ripe
for economic development and job creation.