Rahm Eyes Free Wi-Fi For Chicago Parks, Public Spaces

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to make Chicago "one of the digital capitals of the country."

His plan? Ramp up the city's availability of ultra-high-speed broadband.

The mission started this month with free wi-fi available in Millennium Park. Tech users just need to walk into the park and click a link connected to park wi-fi.

“Chicago will be one of the most connected cities in the world,” Emanuel said in a statement announcing the initiative. “The establishment of a world-class broadband network in Chicago will create thousands of jobs and dramatically improve educational opportunities, economic development, health care services and general quality of life throughout the city.”

It's just the beginning for Emanuel if he gets his way. He wants to implement wi-fi in all parks and public spaces and expand broadband service to under-served areas.

"I think it's a great idea," a morning commuter told NBC Chicago. "It's about time that we actually upgrade the city and have something free."

The mayor wants ideas from residents on how to use the city's existing broadband and expand it over the next few years. He also wants to engage private companies and universities to help in the expansion.

"We will rely on the ideas and efforts of Chicagoans to not only build this network, but make sure it is customized for our residents and our workforce,” Emanuel said.

He said Chicago first plans to establish an open, gigabit-speed network in 15 "key innovation areas" before working with the private sector to leverage existing assets and ultimately provide low-cost broadband to all Chicago businesses.

The next step is providing service to disadvantaged neighborhoods and eventually bringing free wi-fi to every "public park, plaza or space across the city."

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