Summary:

Chicago will become the first city to receive a fiber network as part of Gigabit Squared’s college town connectivity program. The Windy City may not be your classic college town, but the University of Chicago’s south side neighborhood makes an interesting testbed for the technology.

University of Chicago campus South Side
photo: Shutterstock / Henryk Sadura

We now know the identity of at least one of the six cities benefiting from Gigabit Squared’s ambitious plan to bring to gigabit broadband connectivity to college towns across the US. Chicago isn’t exactly a college town, but it is home of the University of Chicago. The south side neighborhoods surrounding that storied institution that will receive Gigabit Squared’s first fiber network deployment.

Gigabit Squared has set aside $5 million for the Chicago project as part of its Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program in collaboration with partner Gig.U. The State of Illinois is kicking in $2 million, while the University of Chicago is committing $1 million now and plans to raise another $1 million in the surrounding communities.

The first phase of the project will bring gigabit fiber connections to 4,825 homes, businesses, schools, libraries and healthcare institutions in the Hyde Park neighborhood U of C calls home, as well as surrounding communities. For those of you unfamiliar with Chicago, the south side contains many of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, but right in the middle of them all, Hyde Park sticks out like a beacon of affluence.

By bringing in the surrounding neighborhoods of Woodlawn, Washington Park and Kenwood, the project isn’t just targeting college students, professors and administrators. It’s covering a lot a lot of territory beyond the University’s direct sphere of influence. What’s more the project will expand outwards over the next four years taking in more neighborhoods. Eventually the project hopes to connect 210,000 residents living in 79,000 households with a combination of fiber and Wi-Fi technologies, as well as link 10,000 individual small businesses. That’s a healthy chunk of Chicago’s south side.

To get that level of broadband penetration it’s going to take additional funds from Gigabit Squared as well as the university and local government. Gigabit Squared, however, looks like it’s just getting started. It’s raised $200 million and so far is only targeting six cities. Gigabit Squared president Mark Ansboury recently told GigaOM that the company is using these university collaborations as testbeds for making gigabit broadband profitable.

Though the city of Chicago isn’t investing directly in this project, it has a lot of vested interest in seeing it succeed. Last month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his intention to create new connected tech zones in the city limits through both public and private investment. Those goals line up with Gigabit Squared’s project perfectly. It will not only create a fiber broadband zone around one of the city’s premier educational institutions, it will bring broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity to underserved areas.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Henryk Sadura

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