The State Of Municipal Broadband in Cambridge

When Upgrade Cambridge formed in early 2018, progress on municipal broadband had stopped, and the City was silent about it.

In 2016, the Broadband Task Force -- appointed by City Manager Richard Rossi -- had made a unanimous set of recommendations. Sadly, all work from the City stalled, with no explanation or indication as to why.

Since then, Upgrade Cambridge has worked to move forward two of the recommendations: a financial feasibility study of municipal broadband and an assessment of Cambridge’s digital divide. We can report mixed success.

When we started working on digital equity, the City was in denial, believing there were no digital equity issues for Cambridge residents. We presented authoritative data from the US Census showing that, while virtually all high income households have a broadband subscription, only 50% of low income households did. Working with City Councilor Quinton Zondervan, the City slowly came to accept the reality. We can report that the City has now entered into a contract with the highly regarded CTC to perform a comprehensive digital equity assessment, as the Broadband Task Force recommended and Upgrade Cambridge has urged.

Sadly, the municipal broadband effort has had no movement. It has taken more than a half dozen City Council policy orders and the individual intervention of a number of City Councilors to even get the City to explain itself: City Manager Louis Depasquale believes, without evidence, that municipal broadband will bankrupt the City.

No US city has gone bankrupt from municipal broadband. Many report that the systems pay for themselves in subscriber fees. In every city in the state of Massachusetts, municipal broadband networks have proven to be financially stable investments.

The Task Force recommendation was to perform a financial feasibility study. Such a study would model costs and revenues and determine if municipal broadband would put the City in peril as the Manager believes. The Manager, however, refuses to fund such a study. This is a one-person veto, done silently and without evidence or justification, to a project that is vital to Cambridge’s economy and freedom of communication and innovation. It cannot be allowed to stand.

On September 9th at 5 PM, we will be gathering on City Hall lawn to deliver our petition, already signed by over a thousand Cambridge residents, demanding the Manager to move forward with the next step towards municipal broadband. We will be asking all City Council candidates to pledge to do everything in their power to insist the Manager take the responsible step of assessing the finances of municipal broadband before declaring it dead on arrival. If you haven’t already signed, please do so: and be ready to stand with us on September 9th to show the City Manager that residents of Cambridge believe that he should move forward with municipal broadband here in Cambridge.