Dec 11 2017

San Francisco Pursues City-Owned, Citywide Internet

The city is the first in the country to commit to connecting all citizens to fiber-optic broadband.

The San Francisco Bay Area may be the home of Silicon Valley, but the city of San Francisco has yet to see major tech upgrades. Earlier this year, city officials laid out an ambitious, large-scale tech makeover for the government that included a flurry of digital services and a new computing system that promises to better manage funds.

Building on that motivation, city leadership announced in October that it will pursue a citywide municipal internet network that will offer residents access to 1-gigabit connections as part of a $1.5 billion project. It is the first major city in the country to commit to such an ambitious endeavor.

Bridging the digital divide is right for our residents and right for the future of our city,” Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement to SFGate. The announcement came in conjunction with a report by CTC Technology and Energy that laid out the potential to offer the fiber-optic connection to the city.

“With this report, we are one step closer to bringing fast and affordable internet to every San Francisco business and resident, regardless of where they live or their economic status, through municipal broadband,” Lee added.

Charting a Path to Municipal Broadband

The report details the clearest and least costly path for the city to implement and operate the citywide internet infrastructure.

“This is not just another report,” Mark Farrell, a member of the city’s board of supervisors who has been spearheading the initiative in conjunction with the mayor’s office, told SFGate. “This is the seminal report on the issue for the city of San Francisco. This is a clear roadmap for moving forward, and we’re going to march down that road. This is going to become a reality.”

The report recommends pursuing the endeavor through a public-private partnership, which would provide the city with the staffing, tools and expertise necessary to move forward, as well as prevent the city from assuming all risk from the project.

“This mechanism enables the city to own the core infrastructure and use it to achieve policy goals such as competition and equity — at the same time as shifting some risk to the private sector and leveraging private sector delivery capabilities,” CTC Technology and Energy President Joanne Hovis said in a blog post about the endeavor.

The network certainly still comes with a certain amount of risk, however. The report finds that in order to break even on the network, 45 to 53 percent of the city population would have to sign up for the service, something that few municipal networks have been able to do.

But, should the project succeed, it will offer unprecedented advantages and opportunities to the city, including a way to improve equity and spark jobs, innovation and economic growth.

“Investment in new connectivity will result in increased local employment and provide numerous economic development advantages for the entire city to continue to be the innovation capital of the world,” the report states.

LeoPatrizi/Getty Images

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