Municipal fiber internet could cost Boston more than $900M, study says

The city of Boston could have to pay close to a billion dollars if it decided to build out a fiber internet network, according to a new “digital equity” study that detailed gaps to access in the city.

The study, titled “Analysis of Broadband Availability, Digital Equity Programs, and Fiber Build Costs, prepared for the City by CTC Technology and Energy,” came back with a few findings based on what the city had asked: that high-speed wired broadband is “ubiquitously available” in Boston, and Verizon Fios has made the market more competitive; that city programs had increased the number of residents with access to good internet, but “gaps remain”; and that building a new City-owned fiber-to-the-premises network would cost an estimated $825 million to $961 million.

The city had commissioned the report to see how easily and affordably residents are able to have access to high-speed internet, and the administration also had asked them to take a look at how expensive it would be to build out the fiber network as a competitor to Comcast and Verizon, the two big internet games in town.

The report said numbers suggest 35,000 or so Bostonians have been without such access, but that number has likely dropped over the past few years due to new city programs and partnerships with nonprofits.

“Digital access to education, opportunity, healthcare, and government services enable our communities to thrive,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “We must work to improve our understanding of the gaps that some of our neighbors experience, and bridge those gaps.”

The CTC report isn’t leading to any specific major next steps yet, as the administration in the press release trumpeting it said, “Based on the findings of the assessment, the City will 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 Citywide.”

The city added that it’s starting a survey available on its website through which the city can “gauge the upload and download speeds of Boston households” as measured by the people who take it.

For the fiber network, the price range would depend on how many people opted into it.

After releasing the report, the city didn’t seem to have a tremendous appetite to shell out a cool bill for the fiber network, which would cost a bit under a quarter of one year’s entire budget.

“The City continues to explore different alternatives to ensure all of our residents are connected,” Wu press secretary Ricardo Patron said in a statement when asked whether the city’s planning on building this network as the report laid out.

The report added: “The CTC assessment estimates show that a significant investment would be required to build a municipal approach to internet service. At this point the City is looking for alternatives that focus on bringing resources to communities most impacted by the digital divide in a more cost effective manner.”