The Editorial Board from the Boston Globe recently kicked off a series titled "The Cutting Edge of the Common Good." The editors intend to offer suggestions for how to create a prosperous city through ideas to benefit Boston's 4.7 million residents.
Their first proposal? Build a municipal fiber network.
In the editorial, the Board point out how the city has always been a cutting edge leader, from Revoluntionary War to same-sex marriage. But when it comes to developing the tech sector, the "City on a Hill" is being edged out by Chattanooga, Lafayette, Louisiana, and Cedar Falls, Iowa. High-tech innovators are flocking to communities with municipal fiber networks.
As the Globe notes, connectivity could be better in Boston:
The truth is that our tech infrastructure is in the same dismal shape as our roads and bridges. Boston, like a majority of American cities, pays more for slower Internet service than our international peers. If Boston is to remain a global hub of innovation — and on the “cutting edge of the common good,” as Mayor Martin J. Walsh promised in his State of the City address last month — it should build a citywide fiber-optic network that allows each residence and business an onramp to the information superhighway of the future.
Even though the city has its own conduit network and significant fiber assets, residents and businesses must seek service from large private providers. The Globe Editors believe the city should rethink the current approach:
But the City of Boston should not gamble its future competitiveness in a Mountain View lottery, nor should it entrust such vital infrastructure entirely to private hands.
The private market would be the ideal solution in an ideal world, but in Boston the market has failed.
The Globe points out the economic development, public safety, and community savings benefits that would accompany a municipal fiber network in Boston. They also point out the fact that a publicly owned network is one way to help shrink the digital divide between income levels.
The leaders at the Globe are not naive; they acknowledge that the task is expensive and will be fought, tooth and nail, by the big incumbent players:
Companies that currently provide phone and Internet service would view such a move by a city like Boston as a very serious — if not existential — threat to their bottom line. Telecoms are big employers, and they give heavily to political campaigns. Were such a system proposed, prepare for a deluge of ads smearing the venture as the Big Dig Redux.
But given that there does not appear to be any significant private investment planned by incumbents to upgrade Boston's connectivity, the Globe calls on the city's leadership to take control of the future…or risk stepping back:
And yet, is there anyone in Boston who yearns for a return of the filthy, noisy, elevated Southeast Expressway? The city once wisely buried a highway; now it’s time to bury a superhighway, too.