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San Francisco Aims to Close the Digital Divide with Citywide Fiber Project

The high-speed network will be a public-private operation and will offer free service to any resident living below the federal poverty line.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — San Francisco plans to narrow its digital divide with a new network of high-speed fiber connectivity. The city is scheduled to begin the first phase of a three-year buildout in the first quarter of 2020, San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell told the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo on Wednesday morning in Kansas City, Mo.
“We believe this is one of the most important broadband projects in our country today,” said Farrell, as he reiterated a need to bring affordable high-speed Internet access into every home and business. The service is not expected to cost households more than $60 a month, and for those residents living below the federal poverty line, the service will be free. Internet speeds of at least 1 gigabit is nothing less than a public utility, the mayor said.
"We have to think about it that way. We have to phrase it that way. And we have to implement it that way. It is the only way we are going to make sure that every single person gets access to the Internet,” said Farrell.
“It is shameful that in San Francisco we have more than 100,000 San Francisco residents that still do not have Internet access at home,” he added. The mayor also noted that some 15 percent of public school students lack Internet access at home, and 61 percent of students surveyed said they are not completing homework because they lack Internet access.
“It is criminal in many regards,” said Farrell. “How can we expect the students of San Francisco to learn, with their peers, without Internet access in their house?”
The fiber project is envisioned as a public-private hybrid model. A purely public network would have been too expensive, said Farrell. And a private network “is already the status quo.”
“There is absolutely no incentive for these companies to cure our digital divide in San Francisco,” said Farrell. The network will be open-access, which means companies can lease fiber from the city.
“As we consider ourselves the innovation capital of the world, the technology capital of the world, this is the natural place for San Francisco to go next and to lead,” said Farrell. “As we think about cities … I really want to urge you to ask yourself, if the status quo is working for you in your cities.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.