Boston Mayor Michelle Wu recently announced the results of the city’s comprehensive digital equity assessment. Wu said the results will “inform the development of a plan to build a more connected Boston, expand digital services, and ensure all residents thrive with improved access to digital technologies.”
“Digital access to education, opportunity, healthcare, and government services enable our communities to thrive,” said Wu. “We must work to improve our understanding of the gaps that some of our neighbors experience, and bridge those gaps.”
According to the mayor’s office, the digital equity assessment – Analysis of Broadband Availability, Digital Equity Programs, and Fiber Build Costs – found that in the past decade Boston residents have gained increased access to different internet service providers. The assessment also found that this increase in options has led to higher quality and lower costs given the same level of connectivity.
However, despite increased access, ongoing issues regarding affordability, quality of service, skills, and attitudes continue to present gaps for some communities, especially households that already require housing support or face other barriers.
Additionally, at the city’s request, CTC Technology and Energy (CTC), which prepared the assessment, developed a concept for a city-owned high-level fiber to-the-premises (FTTP) network design and cost model for the entire city. According to CTC, such a network would cost Boston an estimated $825 million to $961 million, depending on the number of households who elect to take service.
Based on the findings of the assessment, Boston plans to create a digital equity plan to identify digital needs and opportunities of Boston’s communities, as well as grow existing programs and evaluate their impact. The mayor’s office said the plan will “provide a crucial framework to remove barriers around digital access and help give all Boston residents the opportunity to thrive.” Additionally, the city will engage residents, service providers, and other key partners to develop the plan, which will guide the city’s digital equity work across departments and be shared with the state as it develops its digital equity plan.
“Having access to the internet and the knowledge of how to use digital resources are crucial for our residents, immigrant neighbors, Boston Housing Authority residents, and communities of color to engage in everyday life, and it is important that we ensure internet access and digital equity for everyone,” said Boston City Council President Ed Flynn.
Looking to the future, the city plans to select a private sector partner to develop a digital equity survey that will be used to engage Boston residents more consistently around their digital access. The mayor’s office said the survey aims to identify areas of need in specific communities and serve as a foundation for the city to work collaboratively to address gaps within those groups. The survey will be designed and delivered throughout the next year.