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Thursday, February 22

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The Mechanics
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Technology and Politics Tue Jul 17 2012

The Loop as Hotspot

The Guardian reports that our "hyperactive" Mayor is looking at turning the Loop into one big wifi hotspot, providing internet access to the public. Attempts to create municipal wifi systems have an ignominious history, in part because cities have not been able to figure out how to build the infrastructure and keep it paid for. When the services have been left to private firms to build and operate, the subscriber system do not seem to provide the revenue necessary to make the concession profitable. By starting with the Loop alone, a municipal wifi service may be more realistically profitable, particularly if it were designed along the models used at big airports, where those wanting fleeting access can pay for services or watch ads.

Reports of the plan discuss turning existing infrastructure, including traffic lights, into "smart poles" that ensure universal connectivity, including in the subway. How the service would operated isn't clear--the plan is clearly in its nascent stage. From the general descriptions, though, it sounds like an initial public investment to create the infrastructure would be the first step.

It would be interesting to see how the city's wireless providers--an increasingly competitive market, with companies like Clear moving in on established providers like Comcast--would react to a municipal wifi that is potentially free or provided at a discount. The externalities of a municipal wifi system cause headaches for technocratic planners; a free or deeply discounted wifi system covering the city's most densely populated area and central business district could effect the cost and availability of wireless services in more outlying areas.

However, having a seamless coverage area in the CBD could undergird a broader municipal wifi system that could extend coverage everywhere, and in that way provide free or deeply discounted wifi access to underserved and impoverished areas. The other possible advantages are also significant: having high-speed wireless service everywhere could improve city services and public transportation.

Given the city's past experiences with municipal wifi, how the Emanuel administration approaches the problem should be enlightening, both here and for other cities.

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Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

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