Chicago examines fiber-optic expansion

Chicago's CivicNet request for information

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"Talk of the town"

Hundreds of companies, educational institutions, hospitals and community

organizations are poring over a partnership offer from the city of Chicago

to expand a fiber-optic cable network beyond the city center.

Interested participants have until Jan. 19 to respond to a request for

information to determine the economic viability of bringing high-speed communications

to every neighborhood.

The Chicago CivicNet project envisions bringing together institutional

users to create a market large enough to draw a consortium that would build,

manage and operate the network.

With some 1,600 government offices and school locations still needing

faster broadband access, officials say the city is the anchor tenant that

can attract groups to commit to the metropolitan area network.

This kind of public/private partnership enables network users to match

services to their requirements, said Joe Mambretti, director of the International

Center for Advanced Internet Research at Northwestern University. "I think

increasingly this is going to be the model for these kind of relationships,"

said Mambretti, who also is a technology adviser to Chicago Mayor Richard

Daley.

The city will give communications service providers incentive to join

the CivicNet effort by bundling the almost $30 million spent annually on

leased lines for voice and data communications and guaranteeing that business

for up to 10 years.

"Right now telecommunications companies don't see a payback to bring

fiber to the neighborhoods, so they haven't done it," said Doug Power, CivicNet

project manager and assistant commissioner of the Department of General

Services.

The joint venture also offers cable providers the possibility of saving

millions of dollars in installation costs. The city, for example, can allow

conduit to be laid when streets are repaired or new water mains are installed,

according to city officials. Partner firms also will have access to city

rights of way along streets, power lines, rapid transit lines and, perhaps

most promising of all, storm sewer lines and tunnels.

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