Friday, April 19, 2024

To councillors Dennis Carlone and E. Denise Simmons, co-chairs of the City Council Finance Committee, and its members

The City of Cambridge released a request for proposals with a June 3 deadline titled “21st Century Broadband.” Upgrade Cambridge has reviewed this RFP carefully and has concluded that it does not honor the city manager’s commitment made a year ago to conduct a municipal broadband feasibility study.

A municipal broadband feasibility study would start with the bedrock principle that the city should build and own (though not necessarily operate) a fiber-optic network to serve the residents and business of Cambridge. Rather than use this as a starting point, the RFP speaks far more vaguely of “exploring options.”

What’s more, the city chose to obfuscate the recommendation of its own digital equity study to conduct the feasibility study. The city’s original press release, as well as the Fiscal Year 2022 budget book, elide this recommendation and replace it, without explanation, with the same verbiage about “exploring options.”

There is no guarantee that this RFP will answer the question that you, the residents of Cambridge, and Upgrade Cambridge have been asking for years: Is it financially feasible to build a city-owned fiber network?

This is far from the only issue with this RFP. In one passage, it suggests that a network built for low-income residents be “revenue positive” – an astonishing proposal that the city make money from the economically disadvantaged. And while the city’s groundbreaking digital equity study proposes a multifaceted program to mitigate inequality, the RFP simply ignores those recommendations.

Last year, councillors voted disapproval of the city’s Information Technology budget as a signal to the city manager that they were serious about the feasibility study. The manager, in a council session and in writing, stated his commitment to conducting that study. He has now reneged on that commitment to you and to Cambridge residents.

Reluctantly, we must ask you to again vote your disapproval of the Information Technology budget and take whatever other steps you deem necessary to hold the manager to his own stated commitment. The city as well must repair the defects in the RFP so that it really is building toward 21st century broadband, not stumbling toward an uncertain future.

Saul Tannenbaum, for Upgrade Cambridge