CITY COUNCILOR Robert Consalvo’s proposal to sell advertising space on city-owned websites sounds like an easy way for Boston to cash in on visitors to its websites every year. But just because the Web offers new money-making opportunities doesn’t mean the city should get in on the action. The advertisements could end up tainting the neutrality of the city’s online resources. Information provided on the Boston Public Health Commission’s website shouldn’t be sponsored by a pharmaceutical company - or any corporation.
Consalvo makes a simple case for his proposal: Since local agencies already sell advertising space on public transportation, furniture, and roadways, why shouldn’t the city offer similar opportunities on its websites? Other municipalities in Illinois, Washington, and California already do it. Boston’s city-owned websites ending in .org and .com receive over 5 million visitors each year. Advertising could generate up to $1 million each year, Consalvo estimates.
Federal law already prohibits advertising on all websites ending .gov - and for good reason. Opening up publicly funded websites to advertising could create greater entanglements between government agencies and private companies. It also raises the possibility that residents will be confronted with political messages when they check their trash-pickup schedule. Better that the home pages for the Boston Public Schools and the Water and Sewer Commission be used for objective information and services.