Connect Chicago Summer of Data

We’ve embarked on a new program– the Connect Chicago Summer of Data– and we need your help!

During the summer we’re sending out canvassers who will visit farmers’ markets, street fairs and other special events to make certain that everyone is are aware of Connect Chicago and the services offered at all of your locations. Please let us know if there are any particular events you’d like them to attend.

These teams will also visit all Connect Chicago locations to gather more information about each place so that we can keep the Connect Chicago website up to date. They’ll use the same form that location page admins can use when they sign up to be Connect Chicago admins.

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OpenGov Hack Night: 1 Year Anniversary

Happy Birthday OpenGov Hack Night!

This week was the one year anniversary of the Chicago OpenGov Hack Night.

The Year in Review (6:30)

Some quick stats on what’s gone on in the past year.

Chicago’s OpenGov Hack Night has been around for a year!

Congrats guys!

The City of Chicago and the Broadband Technology opportunities Grant

Francesca Rodriquez and Danielle DuMerer gave a presentation on the city’s efforts to close the digital divide.

The City of Chicago was one of the few major cities to receive a Broadband Technology Opportunities Grant. This grant is used to fund a number of projects in Chicago aimed at growing broadband adoption in Chicago.

The City received $16 million in BTOP funds to help build out Public Computing Centers and run comprehensive programs in some of Chicago’s more disadvantaged neighborhoods. In addition, the MacArthur Foundation provided matching funds. LISC Chicago and the Smart Chicago Collaborative partnered with the city to administer the programs.

You can find all the public computing centers that are funded by the grant on

EveryoneOn campaign

Chicago’s done a lot of work to close the digital divide and continues to hammer away at the issue with the launch of the EveryoneOn campaign. EveryoneOn is a national program that aims to increase digital literacy and access to the high speed intenet. The program is being piloted in Chicago.

As part of the program, the city is partnering with Connect2Compete. Connect2Compete is a non-profit website where residents can search for affordable internet options near them. Residents simply enter their zip code and answer a few questions in order to see their options.

Previously, the City worked with Comcast to provide low-cost internet as part of the Internet Essentials initiative in 2011. The city has now expanded that option to include FreedomPop.

FreedomPop is a wireless router that uses the CLEAR 4G wireless network. (Smart Chicago is currently testing the devices across the city as part of the Civic User Testing Group.) With the FreedomPop routers, residents can get a gigabyte of free data each month. For $10/month, residents can increase that amount to 10GBs.

FreedomPop Routers

The city has made great strides to close the digital divide in the past two years. Here’s some examples of the work that’s gone on. (From the city’s website)

  • Establish free Wi-Fi at 28 public computer center sites and upgraded free Wi-Fi at 66 Chicago Public Library branches;
  • Provide over 180,000 hours of instructor-led technology training to 29,300 Chicagoans citywide;
  • Help at least 570 Chicagoans find jobs through 180,000 one-on-one CyberNavigator assistance sessions at the libraries;
  • Deliver technology training to over 1,000 small businesses;
  • Provide out-of-school digital media programming to 1,350 youth;
  • Establish the Connect Chicago network to bring together over 250 locations that offer free digital skills training throughout the City; and
  • Install over 1,400 computer stations at 170 public computer centers citywide, located in CHA facilities, CCC campuses, community centers, libraries and Veterans Resource Centers.

We’re excited to see what comes next.

Juan-Pablo Valez: Lessons on civic hacking (25:35)

Juan-Pablo Valez presented his thoughts on how we can get citizens involved in civic hacking.

Juan used a number of examples to help explain the process of civic hacking and how citizens can get involved.

Lesson One: It needs to solve a problem – Flu Shot App

The City’s health department distributes free flu shots every year to help keep Chicago healthy. This year the city heavily advertised on CTA to encourage residents to get a flu shot. However, it wasn’t always easy to find where to get a flu shot.

More civic hackers hard at work

Working with the city’s health department, Tom Kompare built the flu shot finder app. Once the app was built, it was adopted by the city.

Juan explains, “While the flu shot app won’t solve public health, it does solve a particular civic problem – and that’s good!”

Lesson Two: Discovering the bureaucracy –

As civic hackers start to work on these projects is that you discover the intricate of the way the city works. is an OpenCity website that lets you explore Chicago’s different zones. The site also educates people on what the zones actually mean.

Lesson Three: Spreading the word –

Josh Kalov and Derek Eder discuss the app

The other big lesson is that once an app is built you need to get the word out. Jeanne partnered with Josh Kalov and the Open Data Institute to create a website that helps open up school data in a format easily understandable to parents. By helping to provide guidance to what parents needed, the end result was a site that helps parents and the community understand what’s happening with the school closing in Chicago.

Jean found the groups in Chicago that cared about the school closings and worked with them to help get the word out. has now been featured in several press stories and is one of the most accessed civic apps coming out of Chicago.

LISC Chicago (49:00)

Suzanna Vasquez, Executive Director of LISC Chicago, spoke about their Smart Communities program. Smart Communities works to increase digital access and digital literacy in the Chicago neighborhoods of Auburn Grsham, Chicago Lawn, Englewood, Humbolt Park, and Pilsen. LISC works with local partners to help support local initiatives to close the digital divide. A good example is the work done by Teamwork Englewood. (Who is working to raise funds to increase its Englewood Codes class to 30 students.)

LISC is a semi-finalist for the Knight Foundation News Challenge for their proposal “OpenGov for the rest of us” that hopes to use the same model to help open gov and civic hacking projects in the neighborhoods.

The City of Philadelphia – BTOP Partners and Philly Tech Week (57:55)

OpenGov Hack Night was proud to have Linsey Keck and Ashley Del Bianco as guests at this week’s hack night. They were part of the BTOP conference that was occurring in Chicago this week.

Linsey and Ashley run the BTOP grants in Philadelphia. Philadelphia and Chicago have a lot of similarities in terms of their open data policies, their efforts to close the digital divide and both cities have civic hacking events on a regular basis.

At next weeks Philly Tech Week, the team is running several events aimed at getting people to think about digital access issues. This includes an event designed to get all members of the tech community to talk about how we bridge the gap between the tech world and disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Big Data Week in Chicago (1:07)

Next week is going to be Big Data Week in Chicago. There will be a number of events in the Chicago all during the week with many of these events being streamed online. You can get more information about these events by visiting

The Launch of Connect Chicago

Today we’re announcing the launch of Connect Chicago,  a loose network of more than 250 places in the city where internet and computer access, digital skills training, and online learning resources are available—for free.

By way of background, Connect Chicago is a part of the Public Computer Centers grant (award No. 17-42-B10553) received by the City of Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has also awarded a grant to support this project. Smart Chicago administers many portions of this grant, including the Connect Chicago portion. We also administer funds for the City’s Sustainable Broadband Adoption grant.

All of our work at Smart Chicago under the BTOP grants is managed by Francesca Rodriquez, the Director of Technology Adoption and Digital Skills at DoIT. Here’s a graphic created by Francesca illustrating the great work across the City’s entire BTOP PCC grant:

Most of the locations in the Connect Chicago system have been serving the community for many, many years. Wi-fi and public computers have been available in the Chicago Public Library for more than a decade. Community technology centers— supported in part with programs like the State of Illinois’ Eliminate the Digital Divide Program (going back to 2001)— have been essential parts of neighborhoods for many years. Home-grown classes on social media and photo sharing have been taught in senior centers since the days of Friendster. This robust, caring, and rich environment is the basis for our work.

The campaign around this launch has a number of components:

  • A website at, with a listing of all locations and a listing of training opportunities:
  • A bus, rail, and kiosk advertising campaign announcing the network and directing people to the Web site and 311. This includes ads on all city-owned newsracks and many bus shelters. See the ad campaign here.
  • A new information pack for the city’s 311 service, which continues to be the front line support for residents looking to connect with technology resources. Connect Chicago is replacing the City’s Tech Locator tool, which has served as the main source of information for the 311 call center for the last few years
  • An admin tool based on Google Fusion Tables
  • A series of meetups for you and / or your staff to show you the website and other Connect Chicago resources and train you on how to maintain your own location detail pages
  • Press release, blog posts, and other media to carry the Connect Chicago message

White House US Ignite Event and What It Means for Chicago

Last month I attended the US Ignite launch event at the White House (see full video here), where a number of Obama administration officials made a series of announcements about programs around broadband policy. There are many entities, technologies, and programs that fit together to form a path toward United States leadership in superfast broadband, but it takes some digging and threading to hold it all in one hand. Here are some notes toward that, with a particular focus on how our work in Chicago can fit in to this important set of initiatives.

Leading by example and providing physical space for advanced broadband

Dr. John P. HoldrenDirector of the Office of Science and Technology Policy announced that the President has issued an Executive Order Accelerating Broadband Infrastructure Deployment. This makes public land available for the placement of broadband infrastructure. Marc Ganzi, Chairman of the Personal Communications Industry Associate later said that “getting access to government land has been close to impossible”. This policy sets forth a central process and clearing house for doing that. This applies to any and all Federally-owned properties in Chicago.

Providing the raw technology for next-generation networks

Next up was Subra Suresh, Director of the National Science Foundation. First off, I was struck by the astoundingly effective investments made by this organization, including elemental projects like the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and Digital Library Initiative, which led to the Web browser and Google, respectively. Suresh spoke of a similar building block-style NSF program called GENI: Global Environment for Network Innovations. This is the technical groundwork for US Ignite— a “single physical network can be virtualized into multiple ‘slices’ or logical networks, each isolated from one another and customized to specific applications or uses”. Basically: a network that can be programmed to act in specific, custom ways based on the needs of the application that is running on it. In order for a company to take advantage of gigabit-level connectivity, they have to understand and think of and use networks in a different way than we currently do. Chicago is a leader in data centers— including the new 840 South Canal Street— and there is opportunity for us to provide conceptual leadership on these next-generation networks.

And concrete cash to encourage unexpected uses

Suresh also announced four Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research at four universities that will research concrete uses for GENI. Lastly, Suresh announced NSF support for the Mozilla Ignite Open Innovation Challenge, with $15,000 in prizes to “design and build apps for the faster, smarter internet of the future”.  This is a total of half million dollars over the next few months—  money to be had for Chicago developers and network scientists.

A real-world example helps bring it home

Then John Underkoffler, Chief Scientist at Oblong Industries, shared a relatively well-known real-world example of how these superfast networks are being used. Underkoffler invented the g-speak™ platform— the gestural interace control system shown in the film Minority Report. This product started off at the MIT Media Lab and is now located in Los Angeles. They have a telepresence product called Mezzanine that “melds technologies for collaborative whiteboarding, presentation design and delivery, and application sharing”.

Thinking about gigabit as a central component of United States competitive strategy

Julius GenachowskiChairman of the FCC, then took the podium and provided some good context on why gigabit connections are important. He gave as an example mobile apps. It’s not that long ago that we looked to Japan for leadership on mobile apps— they were doing the most interesting things with phones. Now the United States is the unquestioned leader, witha proliferation of applications on all sorts of platforms. He also referenced getting to scale on 4G faster than any other country— the US is clearly the world’s testbed. He spoke of three goals at the FCC: increase spectrum, increase broadband adoption (this is a main focus here at Smart Chicago), and increase speed (a focus of US Ignite). He gave a number of examples of how the FCC helps out, including rules regarding pole attachments that make it easier for companies to string broadband fiber and the Connect 2 Compete program for broadband access at the community level. Here’s the complete text of Genachowski’s remarks.

Existing BTOP investments and other work by NTIA have supported US Ignite partners

Larry Strickling of  the National Telecommunications and Information Administration focused on expanding middle mile capacity in underserved areas and at anchor institutions. He says that NTIA is interested in working where the market has not served people. He called out a number of US Ignite partners who are also NTIA grantees: REACH Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative (“proposes to build a 955-mile advanced fiber-optic network through underserved counties in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula to serve institutions, businesses and households”) , Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband (“plans to construct 187 miles of fiber-optic broadband network to provide high-speed connectivity to area community anchor institutions and support fiber-to-the home services in four low-income neighborhoods”), and UTOPIA (“The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA), a collaboration between 16 Utah municipalities in the Great Salt Lake region of northern Utah, proposes to enhance its existing fiber network to bring improved broadband services to Perry, Layton, Centerville, West Valley, Murray, Midvale, Orem, and Payson, with the capacity to expand to the entire region.”) Again, the point here is that existing investments by the federal government are being drawn together into a strategic plan to drive superfast broadband. Here at Smart Chicago, we’ve helped administer many of the local BTOP projects, and we are working closely with partners to see how we can learn from, enhance, and continue their great work.

This is an age of conception— we are limited only by our imaginations

Next up was Tom Kalil, the Deputy Director for Policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He pointed to the Department of Health and Human Services Beacon program that will help the Mayo Clinic partner with US Ignite to deliver remote medical services. He also referenced a Department of Defense program to develop new algorithms to detect Improvised Explosive Devices. The Institute for Museum and Library Services is creating new apps for library patrons. Again, these are concrete examples that are being done in other cities that we should think about here in Chicago. The more we can be a leader in conception, the more investments and energy we can aggregate here.

US Ignite is looking to foster 60 applications— let’s make sure we’re in this number

Sue Spradley, the Executive Director of US Ignite, next gave some remarks about their role as an organization, which is to “connect and amplify efforts across the country”. I have worked with Sue and others from US Ignite and USTOP over the last year as they’ve planned for this launch. To be frank, at times it can feel overly loose, but in attending this event, things are coming into focus. This is the nature of the gigabit beast— its concrete value is not well-defined at this time. That is an opportunity for us here in Chicago— to fill those gaps. The US Ignite goal is to foster 60 applications that make a difference— let’s build our share of that!

Basic research is critical

John Donovan of AT&T spoke about the importance of this initiative from the business perspective. Nice quote: “We put a man on the man before we put wheels on a suitcase”. He spoke of the work AT&T on their with GENI-based research. He spoke about the value of basic research, noting that AT&T Labs started in 1901 and they still have 12,000 researchers working today. The opportunity is enormous: demand for mobile data has grown 20,000 percent in the last 4 years. Lastly, he made the call for more spectrum to be made available for providers. This is a major component of the National Broadband Plan. “Every available option, with a minimum of red tape and delay”, was his call.

The infrastructure is still being created

Marc Ganzi, Chairman of the Personal Communications Industry Association (PCIA) offered a perspective on the nitty-gritty of the buildout for this network. “We’ve got to get the plumbing right— it’s not about bars on a phone, it’s about economic development and next generation applications”. He referenced the Jobs Act and the importance of the spectrum license auctions. “This is not a sexy job. Building networks today is difficult.” Small cell architecture. DAS networks and pole attachments, large towers, hidden towers. This is the critical stuff. “Getting access to government land has been close to impossible”, but now there is a central process and clearing house. To me, this highlighted the opportunity before us— the network is just now being developed.

Smart Chicago is deeply engaged with the national entities working in gigabit networks and how they can serve the businesses and communities. We look forward to working with local stakeholders as they help bring these benefits here.