Gigabit Squared, a US-based municipal broadband provider has received an Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge award. Through the award the state will invest $2 million will help support Gigabit Squared’s nationally renowned Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program (GNGP) and the company will deploy gigabit fiber and wireless in Chicago’s Mid-South Side.The announcement comes on the heels of a citywide wi-fi initiative launched by Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago.

The $2 million award from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) will be the initial investment for the project. Additional funding includes a commitment from the University of Chicago to contribute $1 million and help bring in another $1 million from the Woodlawn community and other sources, and $5 million from Gigabit Squared’s Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program and its investors. Gigabit Squared will collaborate with the University to initiate a process for sharing information and soliciting input on the project from members of the affected communities.

The initiative’s first phase will bring world-class gigabit speed fiber to over 4,825 residents, businesses, schools, and healthcare institutions in the first phase will provide opportunities to innovate in the Chicago’s Mid-South neighborhoods. According to the state, as the project advances, based on neighborhood participation and adoption, gigabit broadband access will be potentially available to as many as 210,000 residents who live in over 79,000 households as well as the 10,000 commercial businesses in the area. In addition to its initial $5 million investment, Gigabit Squared will develop additional infrastructure that provides citizens and businesses with Internet connectivity to create jobs through digital economic development, improve educational opportunities, improve health care, increase safety and implement smart energy solutions as the neighborhoods adopt the new program as their own.

This is the first demonstration project of Gigabit Squared’s Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program (GNGP), which will bring other projects like this to promote gigabit network innovation in six selected University Communities across the country. The $200 million broadband program was developed in partnership with The University Community Next Generation Innovation Project (Gig.U). Gig.U is a group of universities and technology companies working together to expand the high-speed networks found on university campuses into their surrounding communities in an effort to expand broadband access. Gig.U recently launched another initiative Air.U which improves wireless access on campuses with more disparate geographies. The GNGP program in Illinois will be supported by the University of Chicago which is also part of Gig.U. Gig.U is directed by Blair Levin, who originally worked on the National Broadband Plan, and is now a Senior Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

As CivSource first reported earlier this year, Gigabit Squared has also been brought in in Minnesota to help Monticello manage its aging municipal broadband network. The company takes a high-touch approach to working with municipalities on its broadband access issues. In addition to providing services it makes recommendations on improving the profitability of municipal networks and expanding economic development through broadband. In Minnesota, the company will be making a six month review of the city’s network in an effort to provide improved service and will make recommendations to municipal officials on ways to improve the bottom line.

“Smart communities will foster the job engines of the future,” said Governor Quinn. “To win in the information economy, we need information infrastructure that is second to none. Through the Gigabit Communities Challenge, Illinois will build stronger, smarter communities with internet connections more than 100 times faster than they are today.”

The initiative has already gained support from the federal government, “in today’s fast-moving and globally competitive economy, our challenge is to ensure the U.S. has a strategic bandwidth advantage. Realizing the need for speed is important for driving next-generation innovation. Today’s partnership among the State of Illinois, the University of Chicago, and Gigabit Squared will bring new levels of connectivity to Chicago communities. It’s exactly the kind of initiative we need to ensure that the U.S. can win the global bandwidth race,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. The FCC recently launched a new initiative its Connect America Fund which is focused on expanding rural and suburban broadband access nationwide.