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Boston councilors to look at creation of a municipal broadband network

The Boston City Council agreed today to look at creating a public alternative to private broadband providers, saying events of the past couple of years have proved broadband has become a necessity that private business may be unwilling to provide at a price that all residents can afford.

Councilor Liz Breadon (Allston/Brighton) pointed to everything from telehealth appointments to online learning as examples of the critical uses of broadband - and pointed to families without broadband who sometimes had two or three kids sharing a single phone hot-spot to get online for classes in the first year of the pandemic.

"Broadband should be viewed as municipal utility rather than a luxury for people who can afford it," Breadon said.

City Council President Ed Flynn strongly supported the proposal, saying that residents of BHA developments in particular often lack access to what has become a necessary part of life.

Councilor Kenzie Bok (Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Mission Hill), who sponsored the proposal with Councilor Julia Mejia (at large), said she would call for a pilot to see if the city's existing network, which links municipal buildings, could be extended to individual homes.

The proposal now goes to a council committee for study and at least one public hearing.

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Comments

Cue hard lobbying by a couple companies to kill this.

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Voting closed 36

for Comcast or any of the other gougers. I predict a sudden drop in rates region-wide soon.

It’s not just the monthly bill. It’s the 6 a.m. jackhammers and the redlined services slso.

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Voting closed 44

a drop in rates just long enough for this to not seem like a good economic option...

followed by a large hike once this plan has been taken off the table.

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Voting closed 42

My town, after years of work on the issue, decided to build its own fiber network. We had to because none of the providers were ever going to provide service, so...anyway, there we were, at the town meeting where we had to vote on whether to take the step and assume the debt to build and operate the network. There was a number of subscribers that would wipe out the debt in reasonable time, but we didn't know if we'd ever meet that number.

So the meeting date approaches, and lo and behold, who comes to town? Comcast! Hey, they said, why go through the trouble and work and assume the financial risk of building a network, when we can build it for you! They put up an alternate proposal that sure looked good on paper. Fortunately Comcast's reputation was shoddy enough that there were plenty of people to speak against them, and we went ahead with our own network. It wasn't easy and it wasn't super fast, but the result is a whole lot better. But, yeah, look for Comcast to try and derail this.

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Voting closed 51

Which town? I love the idea of muni run internet

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Haha, yeah, we had a bit of a rural type backhoe edit last week. First outage since the service went online! There are a lot of small communities out here that have built their own, built and managed by Westfield Gas and Electric but owned by the towns. I really have no idea how you'd do something like this for Boston, but it has been successfully done elsewhere.

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Voting closed 16

I don't like how much my mortgage costs but a reasonable solution is not to start building my own house.

Are you going to pay for this with your 5 cent grocery bag tax?

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Voting closed 15

Sounds like the kind of thing a Comcast anon troll would say…

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Voting closed 87

You like roads? Water supply? Sewers?

All built and run by public agencies, generally very effectively. I just now enjoyed a glass of delicious MWRA water, which routinely scores very well in blind taste tests against the fancy bottled stuff.

Towns with municipally owned electric utilities generally offer their a better deal than the commercial ones.

“Oh, but broadband, that’s completely different…”. Say more?

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Voting closed 26

This is more like you don't like how much you pay in rent, AND you already own some land, so you decide to build your own house on it. There's good reasons to not want to be beholden to private companies for what is rapidly becoming an essential service.

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Voting closed 9

Having just recently been without internet access for a bit, I realized how much more than I had thought, I rely on internet access.
I really don’t know how those who are restricted by financial circumstances to one hour a day periods on BPL computers get by.

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Voting closed 45

I agree that everyone needs decent Internet access, even people who can't afford to pay for it. There are at least two providers who already have the infrastructure in place to cover just about every address in the city. Why cob something together when there should be a way to use the existing infrastructure? Seems like the city could require Comcast et al to sell the city service at a very discounted rate which they city could provide to those who need it.

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Voting closed 15

By state law, the rates are only controlled when there is no competition. The problem in boston is that while there are other providers, they don't reach every neighborhood.

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Voting closed 11

The city already has a network for municipally-owned buildings which serves the city's needs. This could be considered an extension of that, or result in a new network, but there's not some crazy innovation here. It would be running cables alongside those that Comcast, RCA, Verizon, and others have already provided which is how you connect today.

Although networking sounds complex, it's literally coordinating physical connections and has been done successfully before by other cities, and we happen to have some of the brightest people in Boston to accomplish something like this.

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Voting closed 10

Did Menino do something like this 10-12 years ago? I forget the details other than it didn't seem to go far. I guess a lot has change since then (using a phone hot-spot wasn't going to really work then).

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Voting closed 12

It's a slightly different angle. Boston was trying to do a public wifi network mostly for outdoors.

I was working in Harvard Square at the time and we managed to pull off a public wifi system of our own. I'm also now involved in a program dealing with public wifi at my current job and I can tell you the tech has jumped considerably since then. It's a whole different game from internet speeds to hardware and even the devices themselves.

The tech was not really ready for a grand scale open access wise at the time but now after a decade of commercial innovation at places like business campuses and universities the tech has really advanced. It's a good time to be looking into this.

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Voting closed 32

In a nutshell, when fiber started rolling out, Menino said to Verizon, “No cherry-picking the profitable neighborhoods: you want to run fiber in the public streets, you roll it out to the whole city. All or nothing”. Absolutely the right call in my opinion. Verizon kind of called his bluff, so the city didn’t get FIOS for years. Eventually (I don’t remember if under Menino or later) the city caved, and now some neighborhoods have fiber.

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Voting closed 14

Slightly different thing.

In the late 2000s Menino attempted a public wifi network on the streets of Boston. It was supposed to be free urban wifi. It didn't work out all that well.

The issue you are talking about is FiOS wanting to come into Boston and Boston saying only if you come in through like Roxbury and Dorchester to ensure they didn't cut out those neighborhoods in the end. So it's been meandering into the city through that route.

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Hell yes! Fuck Comcast.

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Voting closed 53

Get on it. :)

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Voting closed 14

...what water, food and heat did you use to post your comment?

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Voting closed 28

Maybe the city should build a municipal water distribution network too.

Oh right.

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Voting closed 18

Water is a necessity.
Commast offers internet access for low income customers..like 9.99 a month for high speed access. , less than a cell phone bill.

https://www.xfinity.com/support/articles/comcast-broadband-opportunity-p...

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Voting closed 4

Neither the Boston Water and Sewer Commission nor the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority are tasked with making a profit, so their rates reflect the cost of service. This theoretical city network could offer baseline internet for very low rates while charging others more for higher speeds. The key difference is that the city would only want to break even, not turn a profit for shareholders.

As an aside, it did amaze me years ago when Dublin Ireland started charging for water service and people were up in arms. One way or another, people were paying for it. The difference now is that you pay for what you use.

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Voting closed 9

How benevolent of them.

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That isn't dial up.

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...but it's a small fraction of fiber.

(I just speedtested mine: 82 up 230 down)

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Voting closed 9

What? Fiber throughputs are rarely needed and absolutely never needed for a normal household. Great, your speed test shows you have solid bandwidth. Do you think you actually use even 10% of it on a day-to-day basis? Or do you think that your throughput will stream your precious Netflix faster? Because it won’t.

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Voting closed 6

...you should stick with MySpace.

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MySpace? What are you even talking about? That’s your rebuttal? All of your answers are so obtuse and poor attempts at being witty. You and Swirly are in a league of your own.

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Voting closed 6

And honestly the definitions of high speed should be updated, it can be a barrier to certain industries and essentially creates a tiered internet for those able to afford faster speeds.

The GAO says that "much of the literature" it's reviewed suggests the current parameters "are likely too slow to meet many small business speed needs." It also pushed back against the FCC's claim in the 2021 Broadband Deployment Report that these speeds are sufficient.

https://www.pcmag.com/news/fccs-definition-of-broadband-is-too-slow-us-w...

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Voting closed 9

You don’t make any sense. Tiered speeds are a good thing. A household doesn’t need 1G up or down. Why should they be paying for something they’ll never use. A small business might need it. A software engineer business absolutely needs it.
You do realize that everything is buffered, right? Netflix isn’t streaming in real-time. A 100Mbps link is totally fine for a household. Don’t pull this poor people need high throughputs because they don’t, and neither do you or I.

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Voting closed 4

Or any business that deals with large datasets and working from home?

50 down/10 up is a non-starter in some industries and would drastically impact someones ability to even be considered for job. In my job, that would directly impact your ability to even work with some datasets. And thats not in the software engineering industry, you're being very narrow minded here.

No one say 1GBPS symmetrically for all, its just the FCC's definition (and therefore the ISPs that lobby for it) of what constitutes "high speed" is laughable.

You are conjuring up Netflix and download speeds and paying not attention to uploads and work. Its sad that you're using this and saying lower income residents just can't work in certain roles.

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Voting closed 7

Your main point was that poor people should get fast internet. Now you’re talking about poor businesses. Is that even a thing?

Large datasets only consume bandwidth when they’re being pushed and pulled, which isn’t done at a constant rate.

1GBPS is 8Gbps. That’s a fuck-ton of bandwidth for a household. Who would ever need that down and absolutely never up.

Either I misread what you wrote, or your miswrote what you thought. My original takeaway was that high speed internet should be provided to everyone, and I agree with that, but households don’t need fiber, which is my main point. If you’re talking about businesses then that’s a different beast and I agree that their bandwidth requirements are drastically different from a household. However, the government shouldn’t be providing them with free internet at any throughput.

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Voting closed 8

Why do you keep saying poor?
Why have you mentioned Netflix repeatedly?

I think you're doing that to frame it as a luxury, I'm talking about lower income residents that would work for small business or really, any business. They could be barred from even being considered for the job with low bandwidths like 50/10.

You also said everything is buffered earlier but now are pivoting to large datasets are pushed and pulled. Tell me how pushing a 1.8 GB file is gonna go with 10 mbps up. Oh 25ish minutes? And remember, as the ISPs say "speeds up to" so lets assume its even lower typically.

You are misreading what I said, I agree that not all need close to a 1GB up/down.

And you are forgetting that people work from home. You are forgetting many people can live in a single household. That can quickly eat up the little bandwidth provided.

Also who said free? Did you miss the top of this comment thread where the 50/10 is from Comcast for allegedly $9.99 a month?

The FCC defines those "high speed" definitions and does so with lobbying from the ISPs. The government is already involved.

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Voting closed 7

Our local, state, and federal governments should absolutely do more to make sure that no one goes without water, food or heat.

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Voting closed 8

And a puppy.

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In 1981 the Boston cable franchise was awarded with the promise that basic subscribers would pay $2 per month for 52 channels. The CPI in 1981 was 90.9, and in 2022 it is 277.95. That means the original rate, adjusted for inflation would be roughly $6.18 today. Comcast, the successor offers a basic tv service with 10 channels for $30.

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Voting closed 32

...was to a building with Starry Internet service. I was able to cut the Comcast cord for internet and cable, and haven't regretted it for an instant.

If you have access or can get your building to sign up, I highly recommend Starry. And if the proposed municipal network is something that would get farmed out to a commercial vendor, I hope the city includes them in their search.

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Voting closed 16

Will terminated BPS teachers qualify?

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Directly connected to underserved communities?

I'm assuming there is some cash somewhere for that in MA already right?

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Voting closed 8

That's almost certainly so people who chose to live in the boonies can get assistance getting access to the services of the big city, even though they chose to live far from anyone else. More red state handouts from the populous parts of the country...

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...new-fangled big city services like electricity and postal delivery. How dare the people who grow your food want the services you enjoy?

God, what a backwards comment.

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Voting closed 9

This is another example of how urban/suburban people subsidize the lifestyle choices of people who want to live in the boonies. See also, climate change.

The people who grow my food get billions in handouts and actively work against their own economic interests by barring immigrants from coming to the US through their political choices. So yeah, I'm not cheering for some Steven King voter in Iowa getting $20k in tax dollars to run high speed internet out to his farm because he lives in the sticks. He can subscribe to Starlink if he wants faster internet.

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Voting closed 7

The people who grow my food get billions in handouts

Horseshit. Agricultural subsidies get gobbled up by agribusiness, many of whom grow products like ethanol corn, if they grow anything at all. Very little of that money goes to the farmers who grow your food.

So yeah, I'm not cheering for some Steven King voter in Iowa getting $20k in tax dollars to run high speed internet out to his farm because he lives in the sticks.

Please stop demonstrating your ignorance of how any of this works. Really, please stop. It's embarrassing to watch.

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Voting closed 8

There is one - and just one public downside to cord cutting. If you enjoy that your city councils, selectmen, school committees and zoning boards are viewable online, on cable - anywhere, the money that hires people and pays for the equipment to do that comes from franchise agreements with comcast, verizon and RCN.

Maybe your high school's television studio was paid for at least partially with that money. It isn't just old-school cable access. That money goes into municipal technology funds, too.

There are a couple of streaming bills on the state level that may help correct the outdated franchise agreements. If those don't pass, don't complain when you can't watch your local school committees.

I'm sympathetic with cord cutting, but we need to find a replacement source of funds for PEG (Public, Educational and Gov) programming, even if it converts to streaming only. Plus, consider the elderly out there who still rely heavily on television to stay connected.

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Voting closed 7

In the past i was worried that this "free" broadcast kept Comcast in charge. I think you can stream most of this stuff now.

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Voting closed 3

The Xfinity broadband that I overpay for hasn't cut out or been throttled once since this proposal went public. The broadband service on my street usually cuts out once or twice per day for anywhere from five minutes to several hours (my modem and router are both under a year old and are not the issue), there is a little green light on my modem that indicates when internet service is coming in off the street that goes dark during these interruptions, but it has stayed green for days now. I've been meaning to call the folks at Comcast to see if everything is okay down there, as it's not like them to be this reliable for this long a period. Maybe a little competition will prompt Comcast to improve its spotty service.

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Voting closed 6

The Xfinity broadband that I overpay for hasn't cut out or been throttled once since this proposal went public. The broadband service on my street usually cuts out once or twice per day for anywhere from five minutes to several hours (my modem and router are both under a year old and are not the issue), there is a little green light on my modem that indicates when internet service is coming in off the street that goes dark during these interruptions, but it has stayed green for days now. I've been meaning to call the folks at Comcast to see if everything is okay down there, as it's not like them to be this reliable for this long a period. Maybe a little competition will prompt Comcast to improve its spotty service.

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Voting closed 3