Neighborhood Businesses Lack High-Speed Internet Access - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Neighborhood Businesses Lack High-Speed Internet Access

CivicNet a Solution, but Chicago lags National Competitors

CivicNet a Solution, but Chicago lags National Competitors

Chicago is the center of more Internet traffic than any city in the world, yet many of its neighborhoods lack access to even basic broadband technology. A new study by the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) identifies a huge disparity between the supply and demand of both DSL and fiber-level broadband across the entire city. “From Broad Shoulders to Broadband,” released today, is a multimedia presentation that illustrates the negative impact this has on Chicago-area businesses.

MPC research shows that many neighborhoods, from Little Village to Bronzeville to Pullman, lack DSL and/or fiber access — essential ingredients for economic development and to overcome the digital divide as the economy rebounds. “From Broad Shoulders to Broadband” includes maps that show strong demand throughout the city of Chicago for both DSL and fiber-level service. Existing broadband providers have not matched the demand in these areas, particularly for fiber-level (2 Mbps or more) services.

“The innumerable small and medium-size businesses that populate every neighborhood in the city need competitively priced broadband solutions in order to sustain their operations,” said Thomas Kirschbraun, managing director of strategic consulting with Jones Lang LaSalle, and co-chair of MPC’s Technology Working Group. “This is not a ‘nice to have,’ it’s a ‘must have’.”

MPC is calling on the City of Chicago to move forward with plans for a public-private fiber network that — in the process of efficiently connecting all city and sister agency facilities — will result in broadband access for individuals and businesses in every part of Chicago. Known as CivicNet, the project would leverage the City’s telecommunications purchasing power to save millions of taxpayer dollars and boost economic development across the city. Chicago was one of the first cities to conceive of such a project, but while it has stalled here, other areas like Houston and Pennsylvania have moved ahead with similar efforts.

According to Kirschbraun, “CivicNet represents an essential role for the City to promote economic development. Not just for high tech businesses; all businesses will soon need high speed access.”

There are three major objectives of an effective broadband strategy: using taxpayers’ dollars more efficiently; maximizing use of government fiber and real estate assets; and overcoming the digital divide by extending broadband access to residents and businesses in underserved areas.

Between city offices, schools, police and fire stations, and sister agencies such as the Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Housing Authority, and Chicago Park District, the City spends at least $30 million each year on telecommunications. Tens of millions more are spent on networking and other technologies. Proceeding with CivicNet would save the City and other agencies money, while expanding access to underserved areas.

Said Ellen Craig, a telecommunications consultant, “cost cutting is a remedy, not a growth strategy, and CivicNet can be both.” Craig serves on MPC’s Resource Board and Technology Working Group.

One of the businesses featured in MPC’s “From Broad Shoulders to Broadband” video is Digital Kitchen, a design and production company whose extensive, state-of-the-art portfolio includes the Emmy-award-winning opening sequence for the HBO series “Six Feet Under.” Because even very short clips contain millions of bits of data, and the firm cannot access reasonably priced fiber-level broadband from its River North location, Digital Kitchen ships its products on digital tape using overnight mail.

Ford Motor Company’s Torrence Avenue plant, located on the city’s Far South Side, is also featured. Instead of abandoning the factory it had occupied for more than 80 years, Ford installed a private satellite network to connect its plant with a nearby supplier park. The availability of broadband would be a huge economic boost for the surrounding area by sparking growth in companies that serve the supplier park and making the suppliers more efficient.

MPC will use its video , research report (click here for parts 1, 2, and 3 ), and detailed maps of supply and demand (all included on the disk) to raise awareness in the business community and among decision makers about the potential Chicago is missing.

Houston is transferring 100 percent of its city facilities to a broadband fiber network, saving it more than $4 million annually. Pennsylvania's broadband initiative will produce $140 million in telecom savings over the next five years. New York City has estimated it could save more than $11 million a year by deploying an advanced telecommunication network.

“It’s time Chicago asserts itself as the global technology leader that it is, and build this city — and its neighborhoods — the network it deserves,” said Scott Goldstein, vice president of policy and planning for the Metropolitan Planning Council.

Founded in 1934, MPC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group of business and civic leaders committed to serving the public interest through the promotion and implementation of sensible planning and development policies necessary for a world-class Chicago region.

“From Broad Shoulders to Broadband” is available on CD-ROM (no cost) or DVD (for $25). For more information about MPC’s research or CivicNet, contact Scott Goldstein, MPC vice president of policy and planning, at 312.863.6003. For general information about MPC, contact Kim Grimshaw Bolton , communications director, at 312.863.6020, or visit

Click here for the video "From Broad Shoulders to Broadband."

Click here for parts 1, 2, and 3 of the research report Access to Redevelopment. 

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