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Election roundup: Wu calls for city broadband; Campbell calls for Mass/Cass cabinet chief

First, a programming note: Tomorrow at noon, the City Council holds a regular Wednesday meeting - at which councilors may decide whether to try to bypass a special election for mayor should Marty Walsh decamp for Washington before March 5.

Michelle Wu announced a digital-equity plan that would include creation of a municipal broadband service, in part to bring broadband to the roughly 15% of Boston households that do not have Internet access, ensuring reliable WiFi along the entire MBTA system in Boston and creating a reliable telehealth system.

The Dorchester Reporter takes a look at Andrea Campbell's proposal to create a cabinet-level position to do something about Methadone Mile (grizzled Boston political veterans may recall that Marty Walsh briefly had somebody like that, but he didn't last long on account of the zoning-board bribery scandal that may or may not have had something to do with his previous role at 1010 Mass. Ave.).

Speaking of the Reporter, they've started a new effort to cover the mayoral election. Twitter feed? Of course.

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Comments

Curious about a couple things, as an outsider of course, since I'm no longer a Boston resident.

Regarding Mass & Cass, the past few times I've been by there (3x during past 3 months), there hasn't been anyone along Melnea Cass Blvd or next to BMC on Mass Ave, at all.

Are there still people hanging out there?

(Also, programming note: plans for that area, as well as the "bridge" that 3-years later+ is no closer to being built, is mentioned in the 4 hour "City Hall" documentary, documentary meaning Weisman turned a camera on for four hours until his film stock ran out.)

Regarding citywide broadband, is that not the weakest policy proposal in the history of Boston politics? How does this even warrant an article in the Boston Globe?

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If you think Comcast is bad at service for its network, wait til you see what the City of Boston can do!

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Yes, people are still hanging out there.
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...also, there is (and will be) no bridge.

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Then they've most definitely moved all over to Downtown and North Station.

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Regarding citywide broadband, is that not the weakest policy proposal in the history of Boston politics? How does this even warrant an article in the Boston Globe?

i don’t know if you missed it, but kids are going to school over the internet right now.

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A strong stance would have been talking about getting kids physically back in school.

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leaving aside the false dilemma, it seems strange to argue against a municipal internet in 2021 given the current state of our broadband options.

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Internet was pretty important pre-Covid and will probably continue to be pretty important post-Covid. Having better broadband available in the city would be helpful for everyone, even if kids are back in school.

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If Wu is running on keeping schools closed in NOVEMBER of 2021, she'll get killed! She's not getting elected regardless. I don't think many Bostonians are voting for a Chicago/Harvard elitist as Mayor.

Whoever runs on opening the school in opposition of BTU is going to win this election. Parents want action, not sentiment. And yes, BTU will refuse to resume in person classes come September.

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I don't think many Bostonians are voting for a Chicago/Harvard elitist as Mayor.

So evidently you think that Bostonians are voting for uneducated yahoos?

In italics, yet.

Let's please leave the contempt for education in the red states where it belongs.

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And yes, BTU will refuse to resume in person classes come September.

can we stop pretending that there isn’t a pandemic going on? the teachers want to be in the classroom more than the students do! they just don’t want to catch COVID in so doing. that seems reasonable to me

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So lets not pretend we cant safely open the schools.

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Provide a citation, in full, that backs what you say.

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Here. And I will remind you that Walensky is a Biden appointee who was previously chief of infectious diseases at MGH.

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i’ve seen these and i’m for it, but the poster i was responding to seems to be convinced that BTU will oppose in person learning in spite of these findings. i’m not sure what’s that based on.

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That would be this report.

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I don't think many Bostonians are voting for a Chicago/Harvard elitist as Mayor.

Why not? Bostonians voted for a Chicago/Harvard elitist as President.

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Bostonians voted for a "Chicago/Harvard elitist" as City Council member.

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They are venturing more into neighboring areas. So instead of an embarrassing eyesore in one spot, now they have spread the problem out and neighboring area residents are dealing with it. But that won't be Marty's problem by the time everyone realizes what happened as a result of supposedly cleaning up Mass/Cass, will it?

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Didn't Menino have a hi-speed internet access plan for the city: What happened with that?

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built around fiber or WiMAX backbones to get broadband Internet access to underserved communities. A friend of mine worked for one of the tech startups that focused on that problem. The 2007-2008 economic meltdown shelved a lot of those: the tax revenue dried up, and that were all she wrote.

There were experiments here: city-operated public Wi-Fi hotspots in places like Christopher Columbus Park to test the tech. Brookline built one for police, fire and EMS; you can still see wireless nodes perched atop many of their traffic lights. I don't know if Brookline ever had plans to expand access services to the public, though given median incomes there (nearly 2x Boston's), it was probably less urgent.

A video that I recall being posted on uHub back in 2009 of a police cruiser in hot pursuit of a suspect, fish-tailing out of control and crashing into the old King Fung Garden II on Route 9 near Cypress Street (after hours, nobody hurt) came courtesy of that network. RIP to that place and its amazing Chinatown sister China King, about which I was once interviewed at length for a then-rare food podcast: www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNghYc2vWGE

Among the many pandemic-driven restaurant closings that have gutted me, China King's is among the worst. Its traditional three-course Peking duck dinner was one of the very best, most delicious dining deals in Boston. I brought countless friends there for their first version of it, and to my delight, they kept going back on their own. Such lovely owners and staff, such great food for short money. Fuuuuck. I hate this timeline.

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We used to eat at the original King Fung Garden, which predated both King Fung Garden II and China King. We were sad when it closed in 2008.

We used to go there for the hot pot. A friend of ours (a tenured anthropology professor who teaches a class in Chinese food) took us there. Back when we started - which is to say, last century - she swore it was the best and most authentic hot pot in this part of the country, and different from anything she could get in northern California. She always ordered for us (we don't speak Mandarin), and boy did they treat us nice.

This was well before hot pot took off elsewhere, and shabu shabu become popular. The style of King Fung's hot pot was different, though. The serving and the bowl were different. It was the Mongolian fire pot style, aka instant-boiled mutton, aka Beijing-style hotpot, where the bowl has a chimney in the middle.

It was a very family-oriented place. They took good care of our friend's daughter, who was tiny at the time.

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I could survive on a plate of that, I'll bet it wards off the 'rona too!

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We talked to Doris when we got take out from China King in December and she'll probably open a new place when things settle out.

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And then Menino Wified it.

And that's where the term comes from.

That network eventually morphed into the current city Wicked Free WiFi (props, of course, for the name): You, too can sit in Adams Park in Roslindale (one of the original hotspots under Menino's network) or Faneuil Hall and get on WiFi. Providing you have a smart phone or laptop, of course.

Over the years, there have been occasional noises about using the existing city data network, which connects most municipal buildings, as a platform for extending broadband everywhere, but nothing much has ever come of it, maybe because Boston is one of the few places where we have actual broadband competition, even if not uniformly (like we have a choice on our street of Verizon, Comcast and RCN) and even if that doesn't mean everybody gets broadband or the prices are particularly more attractive than anywhere else (unless you play the game of signing up for a two-year plan, then switching to another carrier's two-year plan).

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Over the years, there have been occasional noises about using the existing city data network, which connects most municipal buildings, as a platform for extending broadband everywhere,

Absolutely not. I would not want consumer internet traffic on the same wire (even if segmented off via a VLAN) as private city data. Sorry, this just screams a security nightmare.

However, using existing services would be a fast way to roll it out. Remember there are Business2Business providers, even wholesale fiber providers. Some, even as me.. a business, cannot have a relationship with. They are purely wholesale.

What this means is they sell transport services, and not actual internet service. In layman's terms.. these companies own & provide the wire your service comes in on, but not the actual service.

My point to this is this..

Miles and miles of this type of wholesale fiber exists under city streets. And while, it may not exist in purely residential neighborhoods (but may exist nearby on a main road with businesses), they most certainly would have the big parts of time right off. This means you could light up 50% of the city without much digging up city streets.

Why isn't someone doing this already? It could be done fairly easily. Then the city (or the transport provider) just had to get into residential areas.

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The city operates a DWDM network on top of their municipal fiber plant. Spin up separate lambdas for the muni broadband and your problem is solved. The risk of someone investing in optical multiplexing gear to try and tap the city lambda is quite low, if not impossible.

Last mile is often the most expensive part of broadband service. Most of the wholesale fiber you mention is either long haul or nowhere near the areas it's needed for last mile.

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1) why have so many similar plans (here and other cities) failed? (See Menino)

2) Does it make sense for the city to do this? Or could we just negotiate good rates and pay an established provider to connect the families who are lagging? I predict direct payments would be $1m/year, while the city owned ISP will cost $10mil. ( Wild guesses, but that's how theae programs tend to go)

Bonus notes:

Of the people withoout internet, how many actually want it. I imagine some people don't want/need/care.

When I volunteered at a non profit "internet cafe" that was advertised to help with with homework and job hunting, 95% of the use was games & watching entertainment, and maybe 5% "work". This probably mirrors all internet use, but let's be honest that not all internet is zoom and homework.

Isn't 5g supposed to make cell service a lot more viable? It'll be here sooner than we can start a new service.

The digital divide is real. But I'm not convinced that owning an ISP is a smart city move.

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predicated on enabling a whole host of new services for both municipal employee and citizen use, e.g., moving city inspectors from pen-and-paper to mobile tablets. The reason so many projects stalled was not a challenge to the basic rationale for building them, but a sharp tax revenue decline in the wake of the Great Recession.

The question of building vs. leasing always demands scrutiny, and as anyone who wired their whole home for Ethernet knows, new tech will always make earlier tech choices look iffy in retrospect. Would the city have amortized a 12-year-old network by now? Maybe. Will 5G eventually obviate that approach? Yep, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't have been a worthwhile project anyway. The last-mile broadband problem was one that Verizon and Comcast were ignoring as unprofitable to solve. For citizens stuck for the last 20 years without affordable broadband, opportunity costs are tough to recoup.

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If anything should be municipal, it's electricity. A person without broadband service can often get it from either 1) a wireless carrier or 2) their neighbors. Those alternatives don't really apply to electricity. And there are plenty of successful municipal electric utilities out there.

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I've sat in on enough cable board meetings for my town to know the ISPs have no interest in

2) Does it make sense for the city to do this? Or could we just negotiate good rates and pay an established provider to connect the families who are lagging? I predict direct payments would be $1m/year, while the city owned ISP will cost $10mil. ( Wild guesses, but that's how theae programs tend to go)

Also, this is what contract negotiations are for when the franchise contract comes up. It never works out like this. Providers only care about tax breaks most of the time. Comcast gives my town internet for all the schools, gratis. But there's tax incentives to do so.

The digital divide is real. But I'm not convinced that owning an ISP is a smart city move.

Other cities have done muni-ISP and have done well. Even locally, Braintree Light & Power offers internet service. It can be done.

Will it solve digital divide? You bet it will. We won't have companies cherry picking neighborhoods over others because more subscription dollars in that one than another one. Every home in the city would have the same access as everyone else.

It would also be affordable.. again the city isn't out to make a profit, just cover costs. Most MuniFiber installations are far cheaper than their coax competitors. I admit that many have a high installation costs, but again, non profit biz so they can't give away gift cards or weird promo like Verizon does to get you to glaze over the install fees.

From an IT prospective (me), my main issues... and I am all for this.. is more about the service itself.

1. Who's going to run it? Hire new city employees or are we gonna contract it out
2. Who's going to maintain it?
3. How's QoS going to work?

Stuff like that.

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The fiber going into most city buildings was granted through franchise contract negotiations

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Adam:

Buddy Christopher neither had cabinet-level post nor was he a public health professional. He was a czar: which entitled him to an office at City Hall. Nice enough guy, but he was notably ignorant concerning the opioid crisis in general and the situation at Mass & Cass in particular. What Campbell is proposing is a major and positive change.

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