Tired of waiting for the South Side's fabled fiber Internet, activists are taking action

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 01/06/2014, 12:03am

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Two community groups say they will jump-start a delayed plan to roll out ultra-high-speed wireless Internet access to as many as 100,000 residents and 11,000 students on Chicago’s South Side.

Pierre A. Clark, a community activist who heads the Woodlawn Broadband Expansion Partnership and the Southside Broadband Expansion Collaborative, said Sunday that the two groups have developed an alternative plan to deploy the high-speed wireless network first in Woodlawn and ultimately to the South Side, aimed at a mid-spring launch.

Clark expressed frustration with the original company spearheading the project, Gigabit Squared, for failing to provide local residents with details or to “engage with us” about the broadband expansion plans.

He said in a statement issued Sunday that the two community groups “are speaking to all of the original partners involved” in the plan and “have lined up partners and resources to support the effort.”

“There are alternative providers that can provide the high-speed fiber-optic connectivity that Gigabit Squared originally promised,” Clark said in the statement.

He says the community groups will provide details within the next 10 days.

The plan, Clark says, is to “establish a Woodlawn Wi-Fi network as a community-based model for other South Side communities to follow, and then provide the digital literacy, tech skills training and infrastructure use cases that can enable residents to take full advantage of the increased capacities.”

The coverage area will include the neighborhoods adjacent to the University of Chicago, which initially agreed to contribute $1 million toward the project and pledged to raise another $1 million from philanthropic and community groups. But when the university finally signed a contract in the fall, it promised the first $1 million, omitting the university’s earlier pledge to raise the second $1 million, as Grid reported in November.

Meanwhile, Mark Ansboury, the former president and co-founder of Gigabit Squared, has resigned his most recent position as managing director there “to pursue other interests,” the company said in a statement Sunday.

The company says it remains committed to deliver gigabit broadband to the targeted market, but spokesman Matt Weinland on Sunday could provide no updated timetable.

In November, Ansboury wouldn’t go into specifics but said Gigabit Squared got bogged down in contract negotiations and the details of getting permits and approvals. Ansboury said at that time that the Cincinnati-based company aimed to have the first part of the project, which would have served the neighborhoods of Hyde Park and Woodlawn, up by the new year.

WiredThe original goal was to build more than 150 miles of underground fiber with a backbone that runs from Cermak Road on the north to 99th Street/Interstate 94 on the south, and from the Dan Ryan Expressway on the west to the lakeshore on the east. The development — part of South Side technology projects worth $150 million — was to offer low-cost ultra-high-speed Internet access, both wired and wireless, to nine neighborhoods: Hyde Park, Woodlawn, Kenwood, Washington Park, Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Oakland and South Shore. Download times will reach upward of 1 gigabit per second for residential customers and 100 gigabits per second for business customers.

A story published Friday by GeekWire says Gigabit Squared’s proposal to bring ultra-fast broadband to Seattle’s neighborhoods has apparently gone bust, and that Gigabit Squared left a $52,250 unpaid bill to the city of Seattle for uncompensated work that the city’s staff and engineers had done on the project.

Gigabit Squared’s “Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program” was created to fulfill the vision of Gig U, a group of research universities, including the University of Chicago, aimed at installing ultra-high-speed networks near universities to jump-start economic growth.

In a statement Sunday, U of C spokeswoman Calmetta Coleman said, “The university remains interested in supporting efforts to bring high-speed broadband Internet to the mid-South Side, and we continue to talk to various partners in the community about their ideas on how best to do so.”

 

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