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Chicago to secure free Wi-Fi for 100,000 students

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a new initiative aiming to deliver contemporary Wi-Fi connectivity to public schools in the city. The undertaking is expected to ensure high-speed Internet access to over 100,000 students in the district. That target wasn’t decided at random; namely, that’s roughly how many public school students in the Chicago area are currently without high-speed Internet services.

It’s all about equal opportunity… also, solar routers

Besides Lightfoot, the endeavor is spearheaded by DNC Alderman Gilbert Villegas of the 36th ward who won his first-ever reelection just last year. Verizon, Ignite Cities, and Mesh++ are part of the effort as well, having already donated a range of equipment to the cause, the city of Chicago confirmed.

Naturally, the most immediate goal of the effort is to improve the quality of remote learning setups schools across the district have been employing for months now. They did so with mixed results, largely due to the fact not every student is fortunate enough to have high-speed Internet access at home. 

The development comes mere weeks after Lightfoot blasted Internet companies in the district for prioritizing profits over people in this time of crisis. It appears that public pressure paid off because all major operators in the vicinity joined the effort in the meantime. As part of the endeavor, West Side’s Douglass Park is also set to receive somewhat unconventional solar-powered routers which area meant to provide an alternative to traditional infrastructure which doesn’t exist at the location and was deemed too expensive to set up, given the time-sensitive nature of the public project.

Mayor Lightfoot has consistently highlighted high-speed Internet access as a fundamental 21st century utility. Securing web access to today’s students is of crucial importance to equal-opportunity education, she repeatedly argued. In total, the project is estimated to encompass $50 million worth of equipment and the funds have already been secured thanks to over half a dozen donors.

The Chicago Community COVID Response Fund and Crown Family Philanthropies are the biggest sponsors of the initiative, having donated $5 million each. Barack and Michelle Obama also pledged $750,000 to their hometown. Select installations are already underway, and the city council’s hoping it will manage to reach a significant portion of the disadvantaged students before the next school year is in session. The free Wi-Fi service established through this charitable project will be available over the next four years, Lightfoot revealed.

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