The future of broadband can be glimpsed in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, where 15% of households have speedy Net connections, vs. 6% nationally. Here's how Evanston did it:.
NO BROADBAND TO BE HAD
Despite the Internet frenzy, speedy Net access wasn't available in much of Evanston in the late 1990s--with the exception of the town's Northwestern University.
RESPONSE: Educators at Northwestern and local officials created a nonprofit group, e-Tropolis, to raise funds to extend Northwestern's network throughout the city, create a community Web portal, and market digital subscriber line service (DSL).
E-Tropolis formed partnerships with upstarts Phoenix Networks and NorthPoint Communications to offer DSL. But Phoenix and NorthPoint ran into financial trouble during the telecom meltdown.
RESPONSE: Evanston leaders switched from the upstarts to established heavyweights.
Since the turmoil, the market has become something of a duopoly between AT&T and Ameritech. With less competition, the giants have raised their prices 25%, to $50 a month.
RESPONSE: Customers will have to pay more. However, officials have partnered with the main library and schools to allow the public to use their Internet facilities.
In the west and southeast pockets of Evanston, where many of the city's low-income families live, broadband penetration is lowest. Many people there can't afford $50 a month.
RESPONSE: E-Tropolis has dedicated half of its resources to increasing access to broadband in poor neighborhoods. Alliances have been formed with churches and businesses to hold classes, donate PCs, and help fund an Internet community center.