Chicago studies Wi-Fi

Under threat from a possible state law that would prevent municipalities from acting as utilities to run their own broadband networks, Chicago city government officials authorized a study of a possible citywide high-speed wireless network.

Christopher O'Brien, Chicago's chief information officer, told a joint session of the city's finance and economic development committees that a citywide Wi-Fi installation would require about 7,500 antennas on light poles and would cost more than $18 million.

The most practical course would be to award a contract to a company that would install and maintain the system in return for a fee paid to the city for rent of the light poles and other public infrastructure needed to build the network, he said. He estimated the study would take between 60 and 90 days.

State Sen. Steven Rauschenberger recently introduced a bill to prevent Illinois municipalities from offering broadband service either on their own or by "reselling" capacity to a commercial provider, which would then manage the service.

Other states have offered similar legislation, reportedly following heavy lobbying from commercial telecom providers.

Alderman Edward Burke, chairman of the finance committee, said he would draft legislation that would determine the right of the city to install the wireless network before the legislation barring municipalities to do so could be passed by the Illinois general Assembly.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at brian@hullite.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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