Boston mayoral candidate Michelle Wu said that if elected, she’d consider creating a city-owned broadband network, if that’s what it takes to bring high-quality Internet access to every citizen.
The proposal is part of a digital equity plan released by the Wu campaign on Monday. Wu noted that unlike many other cities, Boston has multiple companies offering broadband service — Comcast, Verizon Communications, and RCN. Still, she said that 15 percent of city households have no fixed-line broadband service.
“We need city leadership to hold these corporations accountable,” said Wu, “and that requires exploring municipal broadband as a way to fill in that gap directly.”
In a municipal system, the city itself could build and operate a broadband network. Or it might construct the necessary infrastructure and then contract with a private-sector company to operate the service. Around the country, hundreds of small towns and rural counties have set up their own networks, funded by local taxpayers and backed by state or federal subsidies.
If such a network were established in Boston, it would be by far the largest of its kind in the United States. However, voters in Chicago last year, in a nonbinding vote, called on the city government to investigate a similar plan to bring broadband to that city’s underserved population.
But Wu sees a city-owned network as a last resort. She said she would begin by working with the incumbent broadband providers to help them extend their services to every Boston resident. “This is a fundamental and necessary piece of critical infrastructure,” said Wu. “It is absolutely essential that we build a connected city.”
Timothy Wilkerson, president of the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association, said his industry is already collaborating with the city of Boston to expand free and low-cost broadband service to low-income households. Wilkerson said that a city-owned network would be “unnecessary and costly to the taxpayer.”
Wu’s digital equity plan also calls for the city to provide better technology resources for students and their families, job seekers, and entrepreneurs; to boost access to telemedicine services for low-income and minority residents; and to make available free Wi-Fi access at bus stops and along bus routes and at subway stations.