Northwestern, Evanston prepare to offer ultra high-speed Internet to University researchers

Paige Leskin, City Editor

Northwestern and Evanston officials are working to use their $1 million state grant to bring ultra high-speed Internet to University researchers by July 2015.

Gov. Pat Quinn announced the awarding of the grant to Evanston in January 2013 to be used to turn the city into a “gigabit community” that would appeal to entrepreneurs. Made possible through the Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge, the money must be used by July 2015 to help make Evanston a more innovative community, Jose Calderon, the city’s division manager of information technology, told The Daily on Tuesday.

“We want to keep and retain businesses here, so I think that’s part of the draw of implementing gigabit technology,” Calderon said. “Not just continuing businesses here, but also attracting businesses from Chicago as well.”

The access points to the high-speed Internet service will be installed throughout the NU campus and the city’s Chicago-Main area to create an “innovation corridor,” Calderon said.

Evanston’s grant was the third one awarded in the state through the Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge. The initiative aims to increase employment opportunities in the future and encourage technological development throughout the state, ensuring businesses stay in Illinois, according the the effort’s site.

NU officials are currently working to establish the locations throughout campus where the ethernet access cords will be available, NU Information Technology director Wendy Woodward said. The NUIT team has been working with technology leaders in several schools within the University to see where users would best benefit from the ports, she said.

Woodward said staff hopes to finalize the access locations by the end of December in order to start the installation Winter Quarter.

Although the majority of NU students and staff will not have access to the super fast Internet, the placement will be based on maximizing the University’s resources, Woodward said. The University community already has access to a network that has great speed and many capabilities and will not benefit as much as researchers will from the improved service, she said.

“We need to deploy the technology in a way that brings the technology to a specific researcher,” she said. “This is taking a significant step for our researchers and providing them with speeds they need to accomplish the important research that they do.”

The gigabit ports in Evanston will be centered in the area of Main Street and Chicago Avenue, where the city wants to create a “high-tech hub” for businesses and residents, Calderon said.

City officials are in the process of speaking with owners and tenants of the buildings to ensure they’ll sign up for the Internet service, making the access ports in the area worthwhile, Calderon said.

“The project is not going to go anywhere,” he said. “It’s not going to succeed unless we have residents actually sign up for the service. So that’s something that we’re really stressing to the buildings. We need to make sure there’s enough customers there to make this a sustainable project.”

City Council voted at its meeting on Sept. 22 for city manager Wally Bobkiewicz to negotiate with the network provider onShore Networks, which is leading the implementation of the project.

Since the approval, the firm has started to speak to building tenants to sell to them the Internet service, Bobkiewicz said in an email.

The specific locations that will be able to take advantage of the faster network include 900 Chicago Ave., 515 Main St., 737 Chicago Ave and the Chicago-Main mixed-use project coming to the intersection — an area home to creative space and startups that will be able to put the gigabit Internet to good use, Calderon said. He estimates about 40 percent of the project is complete.

Of the $1 million that Evanston received, about $100,000 of the grant will have been used by the end of 2014, the city’s budget manager Ashley Porta told The Daily in an email. The remaining $900,000 will carry over to 2015 to finish the the project.

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