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.


Jesse Kopelman

The thing that people, especially outside of Boston, don’t understand is that the Big Dig was actually a great idea. When not collapsing on people, those tunnels save 30 minutes or more over the time it used to take to get to some places in the city. The problem, like it usually is, was execution — not lack of a good idea. Harvard and MIT don’t dick around. If they stay involved in this wireless project, it will succeed. The funny thing to me is who needs Google or Earthlink? If you want privately funded, any of the big Boston schools, Harvard, MIT, BU, Northeastern, could cover the cost of this project with the change in their sofa cushions.


Google has infrastructure and doesn’t cost the city anything. Earthlink has infrastructure and doesn’t cost the city anything. Why would you want a non-profit to spend years and millions of dollars to replicate the same infrastructure and services two world-class companies are already able to provide? Call this BigDig 2.0.

David Blaylock

I think Boston has the best model to date. A non-profit is a perfect fit for this type of project. All the key elements are there. The city opens rights of way, but doesn’t own or operate infrastructure. No public money is used. The political red tape is minimized.

Citizens in Boston will have the one thing most of us don’t have. Choice. If successful, others will follow. I just hope it can survive any litigation from the telco and cable companies.

Boston Wi-Fi project

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