Boston WiFi: Non-profit or Non-funded?

In sharp contrast to Google’s free model in Mountain View and Earthlink’s for pay model in the city of Anaheim, Boston, home of Red Sox Nation, is exploring another model for planned city-wide wireless broadband. The Boston mayor unveiled plans of the service that will be run and managed by a not–for-profit group. The organization will raise between $16 million and $20 million to build a network from foundations and local businesses.

The model is different in that Internet service providers will lay services on top of the network, but none are planned to own or operate it. In a note from the task force that the city of Boston used to create the business plan, the group says that this is the best way to bring in competition and lower costs. The task force includes Richard Burnes, co-founder and director of Charles River Ventures, among others.

The model might be disruptive, but it faces the same challenges when cities have tried to do their own buildout. Many cities have found that it is easier to work with companies with deep-pockets who build and manage the MuniFi networks. Its mostly because the networks are expensive and funding is difficult to obtain.

Who knows if a non-profit, and local business and foundations, will be able to pool enough resources? Though Boston, as a region is home to some of the largest corporations in the US such as Fidelity Investments. A plethora of telecom-focused venture funds and local billionaires along with two premier universities – Harvard and MIT could help the city raise cash easily.

And if the “so-called” business model works, and Boston residents get better service at a lower cost, that could undercut companies like Earthlink that are investing heavily in owning and running these services.

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