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In January 2013, Governor Pat Quinn came to Evanston to announce the award of $1 million to the City and Northwestern for the expansion of fiber-optic internet at gigabit speeds on the Northwestern campus and in and around the Chicago and Main Street intersection. To date, says City Chief Financial Officer Marty Lyons, the City is still designing where infrastructure will go and setting up a meeting with Northwestern to discuss the project.
According to a City memo, the funds, which actually total $990,000, were received and deposited into the City’s Economic Development Fund in October. Again according to the memo, the City expects the project to be installed and functioning by the end of 2014.
The gigabit award came as part of the governor’s Jobs for Illinois program, seeking to offer high-speed internet between 50 and 500 times faster than most current internet services, in order to encourage innovation and attract and retain high-tech jobs. The Evanston-Northwestern application was the third grant awarded.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the City planned to “leverage [the project] to serve Evanston residents as well as possible,” but added that “we do not want to be in the business of sending monthly bills” to those receiving gigabit service. The next step, Mr. Lyons said, is to find an internet service provider (ISP) who will send those bills.
Responding to a question from Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, Mr. Bobkiewicz said that the City, and not Northwestern University, is driving the implementation process. “We’ve been leading this effort, working with Northwestern,” he said.
Evanston received the grant, Mr. Bobkiewicz said, “because the Governor reached out to [Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl] and said, “’This will be good for your community.’”
Pricing for the service, when up and running, has yet to be established, said Mr. Lyons, but it will be competitive. The ISP will be selected through a competitive bidding process that will be open to all bidders, large (such as Comcast) and small. Likewise, the fiber construction job will come through a bidding process.
The staff memo anticipates that both parts of the project will be ready to go out for bid in May, 2014. Responses to both bids, when received, will come before Council for final selection and approval, said Mr. Bobkiewicz.
The first gigabit project awardee, Gigabit Squared, was announced in October 2012, according to the Governor’s website. Gigabit Squared has yet to complete installation in the nine Southside Chicago neighborhoods it plans to serve, though its website claims that service will be available soon and will offer various internet speed packages at competitive rates that have yet to be set.
The end users of the Evanston project are listed as 900 Chicago Ave., the Chicago and Main Development, 515 Main St., 737 Chicago Ave. and Northwestern University. The City memo anticipates that about 1,000 residents and businesses will have access to the ultra-high speed service.