CITY HALL — The mayor says a new public-private partnership literally underground will enhance the city's ability to offer free internet access.
The city is offering $1.4 million in reduced right-of-way fees to ExteNet Systems in exchange for eight miles of fiber-optic cable the firm will lay for the city while installing its own city wiring.
According to Tom Alexander, spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, it shouldn't be considered a quid pro quo exchange, but it will benefit both ExteNet and the city and allow it to expand its reach of free internet access in public spaces through the Broadband Challenge initiative.
"We love the idea that they're adding cable. That's exactly our goal," Alexander said. "What we've agreed upon is that we'll reduce their right-of-way payments if we don't have to pay them for installation of the cable.
"We've already seen some progress in a couple of areas, and one of them is wiring public spaces," he added. "There's some more coming."
The city recently announced free wi-fi at five public beaches, in addition to the free service already offered in Millennium Park. "We hope that public spaces become places where people have access to the internet," Alexander said.
"This agreement with ExteNet will provide the city with miles of fiber that we can use to improve high-speed access across Chicago," Emanuel said in a statement. "In conjunction with our ongoing efforts to provide free wireless in parks and our other work in the broadband space, this is a critical advancement in modernizing our economic infrastructure."
Alexander said it was part of a continuing effort to "encourage private organizations to step up and help wire the city," often through the city simply piggybacking on equipment a private firm is already installing. He added that Cisco Systems had contributed equipment for the free beach wi-fi, which was done through signal towers installed on nearby condominium buildings.
"We just continue to look for more ways to give people access to the internet," Alexander said.