Chicago is expanding Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) Chicago Connected program and the Chicago Park District’s Citywide Broadband and Digital Equity Initiative to increase access to free WiFi service across the city.

Both programs are focused on extending free internet access to disinvested communities serving more than 40,000 CPS students and 60 parks across the South and West sides of the city.

“In the 21st century, Internet access cannot be a luxury only available to a few. Access to high-quality broadband is vital for residents in finding and securing employment, connecting with friends and family, and living fuller lives,” said Mayor Brandon Johnson. “Similarly, students in Chicago Public Schools cannot thrive if they do not have access to the Internet at home. This is an issue of equity, fairness and justice, and I am proud that we are expanding free wi-fi to the communities that need it most.”

Citywide Broadband and Digital Equity Initiative

The Park District’s Citywide Broadband and Digital Equity Initiative is intended to implement public WiFi at 60 parks in South and West side neighborhoods. The new WiFi infrastructure makes free broadband access available to park users and extends service beyond the perimeter of a park to the immediate community with antenna signals reaching 100-200 yards. The city noted that each park will also be equipped with new digital screens and kiosks that will serve as a portal for information related to parks and other public resources.

“It is critical that park families have access to wi-fi and connectivity not just in the parks but in the nearby community. This is why we are so excited to bring these vital investments to families and communities in need,” said Chicago Park District General Superintendent and CEO Rosa Escareño.

“Parks are more than places to recreate, they are community hubs where residents seek opportunities that improve their quality of life: connecting to friends, applying for a job, and getting homework done,” she said. “Access to free, public wi-fi furthers that goal by eliminating challenges like isolation as well as educational and economic barriers the digital divide can often contribute to and helps foster connections that are vital to strengthening communities.”

The Park District said it is currently in the first phase of installation and has already completed indoor broadband improvements at 27 of 60 park fieldhouses. Beginning in the fall of this year, the Park District plans to execute the second phase of the project, focused on outdoor areas of the parks. The third and final phase, scheduled to begin in winter 2025, will refresh existing Wi-Fi connectivity at 100 additional park locations.

Chicago Connected Program

CPS’s Chicago Connected program has provided free, high-speed internet to thousands of CPS families for the past four years. As part of its effort to ensure all CPS students have access to the internet, CPS is extending the Chicago Connected program.

The city noted that the initiative was originally set to expire later this summer. However, CPS received a $4 million grant from Mayor Johnson’s Road to Recovery plan. The grant funding, along with cooperation from several business, community and philanthropic partners, means that the free, high-speed internet service will continue to be available to CPS families enrolled in Chicago Connected through June 30, 2025. The grant, which was funded by the Federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act, was awarded under Chicago’s Neighborhood Connectivity Program. The program is part of a broader effort by the Johnson Administration to increase broadband affordability and accessibility in Chicago communities with the lowest internet connections.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs