Citywide digital campaign is urged
Chicago told to look beyond connectivity

By Jon Van
Tribune staff reporter

June 16, 2007

Chicago should undertake a communitywide campaign to become the nation's most advanced digital city, a mayor's advisory committee report urged Friday.

Instead of only seeking to extend connectivity to underprivileged neighborhoods, the city should help poorer residents get subsidized computers, get needed instruction and make digital communications an integral part of community activities, said the report presented by Julia Stasch, an executive at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mayor Richard Daley's former chief of staff.

Called the "City That Networks," the report said that rather than merely seeking to close the digital divide that separates cyberspace haves from have-nots, the city should pursue digital excellence, which Stasch defined as "universal, active and meaningful participation" in the digital world.

The report calls upon Daley to appoint two local business leaders to head a private campaign to rally citizens toward digital excellence.

Chicago has a lot of Wi-Fi already. A firm that operates a Wi-Fi directory, JiWire, estimates the city ranks No. 3 nationally, behind San Francisco and New York, for hot spots -- locales like coffee shops or airport lounges with digital wireless access.

The city is considering bids for a citywide Wi-Fi system from EarthLink and AT&T. Stasch said she and her advisory panel have had no part in deliberations over which bid may get the city's nod.

Stasch, who chaired the mayor's advisory committee, said three Chicago neighborhoods should be designated as showcase demonstrations where best practices in promoting digital excellence can be explored.

She unveiled the report at a Community Media Summit, a gathering at Columbia College of about 150 policymakers, philanthropists and others concerned with promoting neighborhood communications.

"The city should lead by example," Stasch said, by designating a digital excellence officer to urge all city departments to do more business online.

Last month at the Digital Cities Convention, Hardik Bhatt, the city's chief information officer, stressed that providing affordable connectivity to poorer residents is the city's top priority for a municipal Wi-Fi system. ----------

Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune