Once Again, the old ‘Bait and Switch’ on Our Community?
In September 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the launch of the Chicago Broadband Challenge, a unique initiative to engage the public to secure Chicago’s position as one of the digital capitals of the country and the city with the greatest availability of ultra-high-speed broadband in the United States. The Broadband Challenge is a plan to create the infrastructure for high-speed Internet throughout the city. Initial plans included outfitting 15 commercial corridors with gigabit-speed Internet.
This plan has three main goals: 1) Ultra-fast gigabit-bit speed internet, 2) Extending low-cost, high-speed internet to under-served areas, 3) Free WI-FI access in all public parks and other spaces.
As reported, the City’s Deputy Chief of Policy, Kate Yager stated, “This is really a huge economic development initiative”. She believes providing access to gigabit-speed Internet — which is 100 times faster than basic broadband — will encourage business creation, growth, expansion and relocation.
So there you have it; the Mayor wants to move forward with gigabit-speed internet as a means of encouraging business creation, growth, expansion and relocation.
And COAL agrees with this plan to drive economic development.
Now back to the Mayor’s 2012 plans for outfitting 15 commercial corridors throughout the City: Fast forward to 2014 and the areas have been reduced from 15 to 7 and only three areas are on the City’s Southside and zero areas on the City’s Westside.
Even more telling is that selected areas such as River North, the Loop, West Loop, and Ravenswood are areas already experiencing moderate to significant business creation, growth and expansion. In other words, the south and west sides, the very areas of our City requiring creative ways to nurture and expand economic revitalization, the very areas of the City experiencing the highest unemployment and under-employment rates, are being left out of immediate plans.
And this is where COAL and many within our Community part ways with the Mayor on his plan.
Why the reduction and the selection of these areas? The Mayor’s people will tell you that the City slashed that number after it determined that only those seven zones had sufficient fiber and other assets available to support demand in those areas. But therein lies the problem – the plan will build on areas that are already technologically ahead of under-served areas and therefore those under-served areas (read that as south and west side communities) will forever be caught in a cycle of playing catch up and consequently, by default, will not be as desirable or competitive in attracting business development and expansion. Clearly this is a problem. And including areas around IIT and the University of Chicago does not mitigate the issue as we see it.
COAL’s position is that current plans should have an emphasis on the very areas that are most in need of economic revitalization and that we do not accept that the City had to start with areas that are already technologically ahead. It may be an easier lift and/or less costly for the seven selected areas, however, if the Mayor’s goal is to maximize the return on invested monies and have the greatest economic impact, then areas of the south and west sides should be prioritized ahead of River North, the Loop and other selected areas. Additionally, if the Mayor is truly interested in promoting economic revitalization of the City’s African American areas, then he could easily include additional requirements that make their inclusion feasible (i.e. including the installation of fiber and other assets as a part of the plan and resultant project(s)).
But let’s not stop at the Broadband Challenge.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn traveled to the White House where President Barack Obama formally announced Chicago has been selected as the home of a new $320 million digital manufacturing hub.
The lab, to be built on Goose Island, will provide a top-of-the-line research and development facility for digital technology companies of all sizes, and will be funded by a $70 million grant from the Defense Department, and $250 million in private and state funds.
The Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute will be managed and run by Chicago-based UI Labs – a nonprofit research and development group led by the University of Illinois.
Built on Goose Island? Really? For those not familiar with the location, the whole area has been experiencing major economic revitalization over the past couple of decades. The question here is simple: was there any discussion of locating the lab on the south or west sides? And if there were discussions, how were areas with large African American populations eliminated from contention.
Is anyone sensing a pattern here?
If bridging the digital divide is of importance to the future of our community; if spurring economic development and revitalizing our neighborhoods are of major importance; if solving the twin issues of unemployment and underemployment are of major importance, if the effective use of our tax dollars for the benefit of our community and holding our elected officials accountable for looking out for our community’s health and well being is of critical importance……. then we must ask ourselves, as a community, if we can settle for our community continually being slighted.
COAL contends that we must challenge the decisions that are being made and fight to make the change required to create a new norm for us, our children and our Community.
The Issue ‘Part Deux’
On a closely related note…
On October 16, 2012, Governor Pat Quinn held a press conference which included the Mayor’s Office, to announce that nine Chicago neighborhoods are the first beneficiaries of the Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge, a statewide competition to establish ultra-high speed broadband networks across Illinois. The state awarded $2 million in Illinois Jobs Now! capital funding to Gigabit Squared, which in partnership with Cook County, the city of Chicago and the University of Chicago, planned to deploy gigabit fiber and wireless in neighborhoods on Chicago’s mid-south side.
In the Governor’s own words: Illinois’ investment of $2 million will help support Gigabit Squared’s nationally renowned Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program (GNGP) to create jobs, improve neighborhood safety, enhance education and improve health care services.
What were the nine neighborhoods covered by this effort? Washington Park, South Shore, Grand Boulevard, Grand Crossing, Douglas, Oakland, Hyde Park, Kenwood and Woodlawn.
Fast forward to 2014 and we ask, where are the fiber networks and high-speed wireless for these neighborhoods? What is the status of the project? Are all nine neighborhoods still in play?
So, let’s make the connection:
If funds were targeted, via a joint initiative between the State, County, City and private entities, to deploy fiber networks in nine south side communities, and yet the Mayor’s Broadband Challenge did not select these south side areas because they did not have, in the Mayor’s rep’s words, ‘sufficient fiber and other assets available to support demand in those areas’, then COAL asks, as we all should ask, “what games are being played, where are the disconnects, why the lack of coordination, why the lack of planning where obvious synergies exist?”.
African American communities are losing out even when funding exists and dollars are being awarded towards efforts that promote and support economic development – clearly these efforts can, should and must be targeted to the most under-served and opportunity deserving areas.
And, by the way:
Have any of you heard from your Alderman, your State Representative or State Senator, on these issues? Is the economic development of our communities a top focus on their respective or collective agendas? Have we made the economic development of our communities a top agenda item for our elected leaders and a measure of their effectiveness?
COAL strongly believes:
That we must let the Mayor, the Governor, and all of those elected to represent us, know, by any means necessary, that the current state of affairs is no longer acceptable.
The time to work seriously and collectively, to improve the state of our Community, is upon us…
Let’s Get to Work
Click here for a copy of COAL News March 2014 Issue 1.0.1