The excellently named Wicked Local reports that the city council of Cambridge, Massachussetts remains deadlocked about what to do to expand broadband to those who need it. Proponents of a municipal network continue to face opposition from some elected city leaders, while others are pushing fixed wireless as a quicker, less immediately expensive solution.
I have been tracking from afar local grassroots efforts in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to start a municipal broadband network for years. I've visited them locally and spoken to various people from citizens to elected officials about the different options. The following are my observations. I'm not trying to channel their thoughts on how to move forward.
Cambridge is a high-tech city with nearly ubiquitous coverage from Comcast, delivering more or less the same services they offer to millions of homes — which is too say mostly reliable and high-cost Internet access (that will be still higher cost next year and the next after that). In the case of Comcast, it comes with crippled upload speeds compared to fast download capacity. Customer service is . . . well, you do your best to never have to use it.
But with MIT and Harvard within its confines, many in Cambridge are well aware that Internet access can get so much better and not be mediated by a company willing to spend millions in D.C. to preserve its right to set up tollbooths for certain kinds of content if they so choose.
However, Cambridge is remarkably similar to Palo Alto, which is also home to high tech households that mostly use Comcast cable and sometimes have the option of AT&T fiber. And in both instances, there is a strong case for some kind of municipal network that would create more local Internet choice. Both appear to have significant support in the community for a public option. But both also have city staff that have decided to prevent any meaningful investment.
They have run into the challenge that Seattle also wrestled with. These high profile cities have refused to consider creative, incremental, and targeted efforts. Instead, they have focused almost entirely on the costs of duplicating Chattanooga or Wilson, where the community built the entire citywide at once with debt-financed capital.
In Cambridge, the city council is rebelling after having been stymied by a city manager that has successful resisted efforts to study municipal broadband for years.
City Manager DePasquale has consistently refused to act on municipal broadband despite a...Read more
Earlier this summer, we talked with Jase Wilson and Lindsey Brannon from Neighborly, the investment firm that uses online investing to allow individuals to invest in publicly owned infrastructure projects, including broadband networks. Jase and Lindsey described a program they had just launched, the Neighborly Community Broadband Accelerator.
A Boost for Local Broadband
The program is designed to help local communities with necessary tools and financing from the start of their project planning. The Accelerator will provide mapping and community engagement tools, help from experts who will share best practices, and access to industry partners, such as ISPs and engineers. In addition to these and other information perks, communities accepted to the program will have the benefit of Neighborly financing at a competitive, below industry rate cost.
Applications were due by September 28th and more than 100 applications indicate that, more than ever, local communities are interested in taking action to improve connectivity. These 35 communities were accepted into the Broadband Accelerator Program:
- Fresno, CA
- Nevada City, CA
- Oakland, CA
- Palo Alto, CA
- Santa Rosa, CA
- Salinas, CA
- Lyons, CO
- Madison, CT
- Jacksonville, FL
- New Orleans, LA
- Brockton, MA
- Cambridge, MA
- Millinocket, East Millinocket & Medway, ME (on behalf of Katahdin Broadband Utility)
- Windham, ME (on behalf of Lakes Region Broadband Partnership)
- Blue Hill, Brooksville, Deer Isle, Penobscot & Sedgwick, ME (on behalf of Peninsula Utility for Broadband)
- Metuchen, NJ
- Cleveland, OH
- Portland, OR
- Harrisburg, PA
- Block Island, RI
- Sweetwater, TN
- Baird, TX
- Ashland, VA
- Manquin, VA
- Richmond, VA
- Virginia Beach, VA
- Enosburgh, VT
- Sauk County, WI
- Laramie, WY
To get started, communities will receive curriculum from experts in municipal broadband and related policy, including our Christopher Mitchell, Deb Socia from Next Century Cites, and Blair Levin, Senior Fellow of the Metropolitan...Read more
As Christopher rubbed elbows with other broadband advocates, policy wonks, and industry professionals at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas, he had the opportunity to interview several people we've been wanting to bring on the show. Saul Tannenbaum from Cambridge, Massachusetts, was at the event and he talked with Christopher about the citizen's group, Upgrade Cambridge. As one of the city's fiercest municipal network advocates, Saul started the group when city efforts at better connectivity hit a brick wall.
Saul and Christopher discuss the Cambridge community's own unique personality and how it lends itself to both positive forces and ingrained challenges in the effort to bring high-quality connectivity to a diverse city. With strong science, technology, and art sectors, Cambridge realizes that fiber is their best bet and the city has taken past steps to explore the possibilities. Political changes at the municipal level created a new hurdle and when it became obvious that only a strong local grassroots movement could keep the issue moving, he took on the role of organizer.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. ...
We’ve reported on many communities where citizen grassroots groups mobilized to implement change for better connectivity which often resulted in publicly owned Internet networks. Each community is different and some places require a more active group of advocates to bring change. A group of citizens in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have been working to bring attention to their community’s need for better options for several years. Recently, they formed Upgrade Cambridge, as a way to share information and spread the word about their initiative for a publicly owned fiber optic network.
Local Saul Tannebaum has consistently led efforts to bring municipal fiber infrastructure to Cambridge. Tannenbaum is one of eight individuals that are on the Upgrade Cambridge steering committee. He recently told the Cambridge Day:
“This grew completely organically. Folks starting contacting me in January asking what was going on with broadband and how they could help. People pulled in others in their own networks and the effort just took off…The city already knows how the Broadband Task force feels about this. It’s time for them to hear from others.”
In 2014, the City Manager appointed the Cambridge Broadband Task Force, which developed recommendations that they presented in 2016; Tannenbaum was a member of the task force. According to the founders of Upgrade Cambridge, the lack of response from the City Manager is driving the formation of the group. They feel that if community leaders hear from everyday Cambridge citizens and realize the magnitude of the problem, city leaders will feel more compelled to act.
The city also hired a consultant who recommended that Cambridge develop a dark fiber network, but find a private sector ISPs to provide last mile connectivity to businesses and residents via the city owned fiber. Another recommendation from the consultant in 2016 was that the city provide last mile fiber only to the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) locations. The task force disagreed with these recommendations.
The Cambrige Broadband Task Force also felt that the consultant recommendation was inadequate and too general. They did...Read more
Depending on where you live, there may be more opportunities these days to participate in marches, demonstrations, or community political meetings. Regardless of whether your beliefs lean red or blue, you may be like many other Americans and wonder what the future holds for federal telecommunications policy. Saul Tannenbaum from Cambridge recently wrote a piece that stressed the importance of local decision making authority and how municipal networks can rise above reversals anticipated by the new administration’s FCC.
Tannenbaum looks at four policies that are likely to be or have been adjusted from current practice to a new approach under the Trump administration:
- Digital Inclusion
- Network Neutrality
- Corporate Consolidation
Cambridge has considered developing in its own municipal network for a while and Tannenbaum connects the dots between the investment and local control over these issues. While he describes the situation in his own community, it can apply to many other places on the map; he reminds us that decisions about connectivity can and should be local.
While telecommunication policy is thought of as national, in reality, it’s a matter of whose cables and services reach which home. That decision can be a very local one. A free, fair, open, and affordable Internet for Cambridge is within grasp. All Cambridge needs to do is build one.
By building its own network, Cambridge can ensure that its infrastructure reflects its values and the needs of its residents, not the values and needs of Comcast and Verizon.
Check out the full article, Municipal Broadband Is Municipal Resistance, on Medium.
Cambridge, Massachusetts has established a Broadband Task Force and is looking for ways to better its local connectivity. In order to educate the public about the advantages of broadband, the local community CCTV channel will televise presentations and sit-downs between local leaders who can describe how it will impact Cambridge.
The first episode of Cambridge Broadband Matters recently aired and is now available to view. It runs approximately 30 minutes long and features Georgiana Chevry of Cambridge Community Learning Center, Susan Flannery of Cambridge Public Library, and Jay Leslie of the Cambridge Housing Authority.
One of the topics they address in this episode is the connection between broadband and adult education and workforce development. The issue is critical in Cambridge and many communities as we transition to an information based economy.
In April, Chris spoke at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin. If you were not able to attend, Saul Tannenbaum's Readfold.com article gives you a taste of what it was like. Tannenbaum is a member of the Cambridge Broadband Task Force, recently set up by the city's City Manager to investigate the possibility of municipal broadband connectivity.
Tannenbaum describes his experience there and some of the typical discussions he encounters while investigating a muni network. What role should the local or state government play in bettering connectivity? What is preventing the U.S. from excelling at ubiquitous access for all income levels? Why a municipal network? For Tannenbaum, and other residents of Cambridge, those questions are especially significant because the town is historically a place of technological innovation. Gigabit connectivity may be the gold standard, but in a place like Cambridge, it is the minimum:
Cambridge has companies and institutions for whom high capacity, high speed networks are mission critical. MIT, Harvard, the Broad Institute, Google, Microsoft, Biogen-Idec, Novartis, and many others who are not yet household names, move large amounts as part of daily work. With partners like those, Cambridge can become a true testbed for the network of the future. Cambridge, where the Internet was invented, can be where the next Internet is developed.
We encourage you to read the entire article, which also offers up some great resources, but Tannenbaum made the case for his home town:
[Cambridge] pairs a legacy of being on the frontiers of social justice with an economic sector whose future health requires a free and open Internet. It is a rarity in Cambridge politics to find the interests of our innovation community and our social justice community to be so closely aligned.
On Tuesday, May 5th, Chris will speak at an open meeting to provide information on municipal fiber networks. The community is in the process of exploring the possibility of investing in infrastructure to improve local connectivity.
The city formed its task force in 2014 and are in the process of establishing a relationship with a consultant to help them move forward.
The presentation will be at the Harvard Information Center, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. The event starts at 5 p.m.