Wireless Internet for All Boston's Municipal Broadband Plan Moves Forward Despite High-Profile Failures Elsewhere

Many of today's condominium owners depend as much on Internet access as they do on electricity, heat, and water. After all, who needs the fridge to run if you can't get online to order the groceries or take-out? Who needs a morning shower when you're working from home on the computer? Being online is a basic, and as such, homeowners expect their online services to be not just impeccably reliable, but high-speed and low-cost, too.

But how often do homeowners get what they need? Despite the growing demand for high-speed Internet, and its availability to 90% of Boston residents, only 40% of Boston households subscribe to high-speed service. Thirty percent use slower dial-up access and 30% of Boston homes have no Internet at all. In response, and to move the city into the forefront of a growing trend in municipal wireless, the city of Boston has launched a pioneering initiative that could revolutionize the digital landscape for property owners and businesses alike.

Wireless access, also known as WiFi, allows computers, laptops, phones, music players and other electronic devices to connect to the Internet through radio waves. In most major cities, including Boston, free WiFi is sometimes available in public places like coffee shops and libraries. In other places, like a home or business, people pay for Internet access through subscription fees that can be as high as $50 or $60 a month.

Wireless Internet for $10 to $15 a Month

A little less than two years ago, Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino appointed a Wireless Task Force to study ways of providing inexpensive wireless Internet access to anyone within city limits. Last year, the Task Force concluded its work and recommended the city designate a non-profit entity to create a citywide, open access, wholesale-only wireless network. The result, they said, would be "low-cost service to every neighborhood [in the city] while providing a platform for innovation unlike any in the nation." A wholesale network, built using the city's already existing infrastructure—light poles, traffic signals, and public buildings—would compete with telecom giants Comcast, Verizon, and others who currently dominate the market. Lower wholesale costs, they reasoned, would allow and encourage a proliferation of entrepreneurial activity. They predicted Internet connection service to homes and businesses would be as low as $10 to $15 a month, and from there, new applications "from inexpensive Internet phone to technologically advanced public safety equipment" would be developed.

Exciting Applications May Lie Ahead

"People are talking about a lot of exciting applications," says Pam Reeve, CEO of, the independent non-profit she launched after completing her work on the Task Force. "I think monitoring and security [over the Internet] might be very interesting to property owners, in terms [of using] wireless cameras and environmental sensors, particularly if you own multiple properties. Wouldn't it be nice to have all your buildings monitored and have all the information come back to one dashboard or central office?"


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