Gov. Pat Quinn, together with University President Morton Schapiro, announced Friday morning that the city has been selected for a $1 million internet grant that will build a high-speed fiber optic network along Chicago Avenue. The gigabit system, capable of processing information at about 100 times the speed of regular broadband connections, will be available at more than 400 "access points" across campus and throughout Evanston, according to a press release from Gov. Quinn's office.
"Having an incredibly fast Internet system like this helps position Northwestern as a leader in research and scholarly information," said University spokesman Al Cubbage. "This will bring us an even greater level of connectivity than we have currently, and it's something that extends into Evanston."
Leaders and businessmen at the announcement spoke about the project's projected ability to attract technologically-focused businesses and investors to Evanston. As a result of the network expansion, "the researchers on Northwestern University’s campus, workers in technology start-up companies and entrepreneurs will be able to access faster data speeds leading to greater discoveries and commercial applications," according to Alderman Melissa Wynn, from Evanston's Third Ward.
While the network will be a boost to Northwestern's research capabilities, a primary focus of the project will be to build a strong entrepreneurial base within Evanston that will attract information-based startups. Specifically, Schapiro said the project would help encourage graduating Northwestern students with an eye toward entrepreneurship to stay in and around Evanston, rather than moving to popular startup sectors like Silicon Valley in California or the Route 128 tech corridor in Massachusetts.
"It was great to see a group of Northwestern students at the announcement this morning...these are students who, in many cases, are already doing a lot of entrepreneurial things," Cubbage said. "And Gov. Quinn had a lot of nice comments about how he wants students like them to stay in Evanston after they graduate."
The stronger connection, while available through ethernet connections in Evanston and across campus, will not affect the overall wireless connection within the University.
"Don't be misled – this isn't campus-wide, and not every single access point will be high-speed," Cubbage said. "It would be an expansion of high-speed connections like ones that are currently in place at [the Technological Institute], but it's not the kind of thing that will affect the desktop in my office or your laptop in your dorm room."
The timetable for the project, as well as the details of the network's construction and the extent of its capabilities, is still unclear, according to City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz.