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City Forming Task Force to Examine Broadband Options

City Forming Task Force to Examine Broadband Options

City forming broadband Task Force to examine options to increase competition, reduce pricing, and improve speed

The City of Cambridge is forming a Task Force to examine broadband for the City, seeking to increase competition, reduce pricing, and improve speed, reliability and customer service. This Task Force comes after a call in this space for a group to study city-owned broadband, and a subsequent City Council policy order requesting the City Manager act to create such a group.

A series of events have put new focus on broadband options. Earlier this year, a Washington DC appeals court overturned federal "net neutrality" regulations, the policy that requires internet providers to treat all network traffic equally. Comcast, the nation's dominant internet and cable TV provider, announced its intention to merge with its largest rival, Time Warner Cable, thus further consolidating a highly concentrated industry. Then, Federal Communications Commission chair Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries announced that he would support "fast lanes," a policy by which well-heeled companies could buy faster access to homes and businesses. Cable TV is already among the most reviled industries. The fear that Comcast's concentrated power as well as the industry's apparent control of the FCC have reignited the search for alternatives. For Cambridge, the issues are just the national ones of a free and open internet. Cambridge also faces a digital divide where internet service is beyond the financial means of some families and an internet infrastructure that needs to support its unique innovation industries.

Cambridge officials have taken these concerns seriously. The Department of Public Works has been exploring the physical requirements for networking. City staff have been meeting with Susan Crawford, Visiting Faculty at the Harvard Law School, and one of the nation's leading advocates for municipal broadband, as well as Comcast and Verizon. The City's budget for Fiscal Year 2015, which starts in July, contains money to support the work of a Task Force. And the call for applications to the Task Force, reproduced below, has an unusually agressive deadline of May 30th.

City Manager Richard C. Rossi is seeking applicants to serve on a new Task Force which will examine broadband service in Cambridge and evaluate our fiber infrastructure. The Task Force will examine options to increase competition, reduce pricing, and improve speed, reliability and customer service for both residents and businesses. Additionally, the Task Force will investigate scenarios for leveraging the City’s current or future fiber assets to expand access to broadband services, such as service to CHA properties.

The work of the Task Force will help to ensure that Cambridge remains a world-class City in which to live, work, innovate and learn. The final report of the committee will assist the City in planning for the future and setting realistic expectations with the public, as creating alternative solutions can take years to fully implement.

The Task Force will meet on a regular basis and will be charged with:

  • Engaging the broader community, including residents, business and university partners, in understanding their current and future broadband needs;
  • Understanding and documenting existing broadband service in Cambridge – speed, reliability, cost and customer service;
  • Understanding and documenting the existing broadband and fiber infrastructure – both private and public;
  • Examining best practices and models used by other municipalities across the United States to improve access to broadband services;
  • Developing a range of alternatives for improving access to broadband services, including: increased private competition, a mesh network, a municipal fiber network connected to public housing properties, a municipal fiber backbone throughout the city and a complete municipal broadband network;
  • Evaluating each alternative by conducting an analysis of the level of service provided, cost to customers and to the City, customer service, sustainability and flexibility of the system to adapt to improving technologies;
  • Creating business models for providing internet service that includes: funding, cost recovery, governance model, and subscription structure, including options for people with limited ability to pay; and
  • Developing recommendations for leveraging public- private partnerships, including regional initiatives, in achieving alternative access to broadband services.

Residents and interested members of Cambridge’s university, innovation, civic and business communities are encouraged to apply. Prospective members should send a letter via mail, email or fax by Friday, May 30, 2014 briefly describing the applicant’s interest in the committee, relevant background, skills and experience to:

Richard C. Rossi, City Manager
City of Cambridge
795 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
Email: citymanager@cambridgema.gov
Ph: 617-349-4300 Fax: 617-349-4307


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Creative Commons License
This work by Saul Tannenbaum is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Image courtesy Free Press, under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 license

Comments

Thank you Saul. This is good news as long as it doesn't hurt CCTV, although I'm sure we'll find our way. But something has to be done.

Where are free WiFi around Cambridge 02139 and 02138 ?