Comcast is adding more fiber to its menu of internet offerings in booming Chicago business enclaves.
The company is investing nearly $100 million to build out its high-speed fiber network across a 7-square-mile area of the city, beefing up broadband service to neighborhoods that have been a magnet in recent years for business relocation and growth.
The three-year project, announced Wednesday, will add fiber optic cable in the Loop, West Loop, River North and River West, expanding network capacity for the current and future home of everything from McDonald's headquarters to tech startups. It is the largest concentrated fiber expansion Comcast has undertaken in the Chicago area, the company said.
"Those areas are growing really quickly, and we want to be there with the latest technology infrastructure," said Comcast spokesman Jack Segal. "We have a (fiber optic) footprint in some places, not all of those areas."
Segal said work has already begun on the project, which will also make the fiber optic network available to 30,000 additional residences in the area. Comcast spends about $300 million annually on its Chicago-area network, and has built about 11,000 miles of fiber across the region. Fiber enables providers to offer gigabit speed internet service, which is crucial for business customers, especially the technology firms that have been clustering in several Chicago neighborhoods.
"The network investments Comcast is making will help fuel the expansion of Chicago's business core beyond its traditional borders by strengthening the city's new technology epicenters in River North, the West Loop, River West and beyond," Howard Tullman, CEO of tech incubator 1871, said in a news release announcing the project.
Improving the internet infrastructure will be no less important to the broad range of businesses that are moving from the suburbs and beyond to attract an urban millennial workforce. That includes hamburger giant McDonald's, which announced last month it would be moving from its longtime home in Oak Brook to the former site of Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Studios in Chicago's West Town neighborhood by spring 2018.
Other major companies that have or plan to take up residence in the city include Motorola Solutions, Kraft Heinz, Gogo, Hillshire Brands, Beam Suntory and ConAgra.
In addition to the fiber build-out, Comcast is launching a separate initiative to bring gigabit internet speeds to Chicago. A new modem is being tested in the market, which allows for 1 gigabit-per-second speeds on the existing infrastructure. It should be available to Chicago-area customers in the third quarter.
Rival provider AT&T has been ramping up its high-speed offerings in the Chicago area since launching its GigaPower Internet in June 2015, with service available in more than 25 communities, the company said.