In an effort to bridge the “digital divide,” the City of Chicago is moving forward with plans to offer Internet access to all residents. On May 30, Mayor Richard Daley announced a request for proposals from vendors competing for a 10-year contract to provide wireless Internet access throughout the city.

Wi-Fi – short for Wireless Fidelity – enables mobile communications devices, like laptops and personal digital assistants (PDAs), to connect to the Internet without the use of any wires or cables. A citywide wi-fi system would allow residents to have online access from virtually anywhere in the city.

Saying that “everyone needs to have access to computer technology to succeed in life,” Mayor Daley also announced $250,000 in grants to community groups who can develop innovative strategies to make computers and technology more accessible to low-income residents.

Currently, most neighborhood libraries, along with many other public venues – like Millennium Park and the Daley Cultural Center – offer wireless access to Chicago residents. The Mayor’s plan to offer citywide wi-fi service expands to all public schools, museums, and even the lakefront.

Companies have four months to submit their bids. Once a vendor is selected, the city estimates that it will take about 18 months to build the infrastructure for the network.

Chicago would be among the first major cities to offer wi-fi service to its residents. Earlier this year, Philadelphia and Portland each signed contracts with third-party vendors to provide citywide wireless Internet access.