Nearly a year after it was first announced Evanston would be the recipient of a nearly $1 million state high-speed internet grant, city officals are still figuring out how to use it.
The $999,000 grant was received in October, said Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons at a City Council Administration and Public Works Committee meeting Monday.
The grant was designed to enable internet connections about 100 times faster than current typical residential high-speed connections — known as gigabit speed — for businesses in the area of Chicago and Main.
The city has partnered with Northwestern University to provide the service with fiber optic cable connections to the global internet backbone of the university.
But according to Lyons, the city is still working to set up a meeting date with university officials to discuss the design and implementation process for the project.
Any major expenditures — including choosing an internet provider to host the project itself — will come back to the committee and City Council as bids or requests for proposals, Lyons said. The funds from the grant have been deposited into the city’s economic development fund and will be spent from there, he said.
The RFP process will be used to choose an internet provider, Lyons said in response to a question from Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward.
She also wondered whether competition for the project among providers would be “hot” and if smaller providers would be considered as well.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz wasn’t sure if competition would be fierce, but said it’s possible a smaller provider could be chosen, though the decision could hinge on additional benefits providers would be able to offer the city and NU.
Either way the committee and City Council would see the RFP first, he said.
As to how Evanston residents will pay for the services once everything is installed, Bobkiewicz said that would be one of the answers interested providers would provide inr response to the RFP.
“We do not want to be in business of sending bills,” he said. The city wants a third party to do that part but would make sure that the rate offered is reasonable, he added.
Rainey wondered whether the city would benefit as much as NU from the project.
The project is clearly driven by the city, Bobkiewicz said, adding that Gov. Pat Quinn reached out to Evanston with this grant because he felt it was important for the community.
“At the end of the day both parties will benefit,” he said.
And any out-of-pocket costs — costs the grant doesn’t cover — would be shared between the city and NU, Bobkiewicz said.
“And we’ll get a nice letter from [NU] saying how grateful they are?” Rainey asked.
“We’ll make sure of that,” Bobkiewicz said.
A staff memo says the project is designed to provide the ultra-fast Internet service to the condo buildings at 900 Chicago Ave. and 515 Main St., to the AMLI rental development at 737 Chicago Ave. and to the mixed-use building planned for the vacant lot on the southeast corner of Main Street and Chicago Avenue as well as to Northwestern facilities.
The memo says the city hopes to have the system online by the end of next year.