Broadband upgrade sparks planning

By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Staff Writer

Residents, educators and business owners from nine neighborhoods including Hyde Park, Grand Boulevard and Woodlawn met last Wednesday to discuss the community’s response to the City of Chicago Broadband Expansion Request For Information (RFI) for the Southside Fiber optic/Wireless Broadband Network development challenge.

On Oct. 16, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) announced a statewide competition to establish ultra-high speed broadband networks across Illinois. The state awarded economic development corporation Gigabit Squared $2 million toward its Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program (GNGP). Gigabit Squared will partner with the University of Chicago, which will also invest $1 million and raise an addition $1 million, to deploy a fiber optic and wireless network in the Mid-South Side communities.

Hyde Park, Kenwood, Woodlawn and Washington Park will be the first neighborhoods to receive ultra-high speed broadband networks as part of the Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge. Over time, Grand Boulevard, South Shore, Greater Grand Crossing, Douglas and Oakland will be served by gigabit speed wireless.

Residents, community groups, small business owners and representatives from technology companies and the University of Chicago were invited to attend what is being called the Southside Broadband Expansion Collaborative, to create a plan on how the communities can effectively use the Wireless Broadband Network to enhance human services, education, safety and community development.

“The governor [Pat Quinn] says the South Side seems to be ready for his challenge so we want to make sure we have a bottom up process driven by the bottom up,” said NOW member Pierre Clark, who co-lead the meeting with Laura Lane, co-director of the Woodlawn Broadband Expansion Partnership and member of Network of Woodlawn (NOW). “We’ve shown the capacity to be here and if we build the process right we all will benefit.”

“As a business technology owner it all comes down to creating jobs,” said Elbert Clayton, owner of
breakingvoices.com, who said the new wireless broadband network would make Internet access more affordable and allow more members of the community to develop their own Internet-based businesses.

“From a hospital perspective many people, especially seniors, don’t have money to get online,” said Tim May, manager of information technology projects and urban health initiative at The University of Chicago Medicine. “With the new broadband network seniors can get online for healthcare services.”

He said the access would also enhance Web-based training for clinicians in the U. of C. Medicine’s Project ECHO, which is a program that provides treatment of chronic, common and complex diseases in rural and underserved areas.

Several community members said the education and community development components of the RFI were missing key details.

“Where is the digital literacy training to access the jobs that are coming?” said Mattie Butler, board member of the Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors, “I don’t see that on the RFI.”

There were also questions from the attendees regarding how students would obtain access to updated technology hardware such as tablets. Another community member said training on how to use the updated equipment in the schools would also be needed because he said he’s seen “state-of-the-art equipment in schools but it has never been turned on because no one knows how to use it.”

The next Southside Broadband Expansion Collaborative meeting will take place on Nov. 9. Lane said the meeting would consist of matchmaking.

“We need to partner up our technology leaders with our community leaders,” Lane said. “What we do with the broadband is important and we want to be able to demonstrate how it can enhance the lives of people in the communities.”

She said the location of the next meeting has not yet been established. The collaborative is inviting organizations in other communities to volunteer to host the meeting.

The RFI response is due on Nov. 19.

d.phillips@hpherald.com