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Municipal Broadband Internet Is the Right Thing to Do for Children, Families, & Businesses, and Has Economic Benefits

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Did you know, 18% of Worcester households lack an internet connection? 

Without internet access, children and families are at an educational and career disadvantage. It’s one of several reasons City leaders are considering municipal broadband internet, a City-owned and -managed version of what Charter-Spectrum currently provides.

Internet is infrastructure, so let’s treat it that way

The rise of virtual learning, remote work, and online engagement with community resources has made broadband access as critical to family life as services traditionally viewed as infrastructure, such as electricity. 

Not surprisingly, internet access is a significant predictor of a household’s academic and financial success.

Yet, 18% of Worcester households, including 39% percent of low-income households, lacked a broadband internet connection as of 2019, according to a recent Worcester Regional Research Bureau (WRRB) report. Blame falls on high prices, spotty infrastructure in some neighborhoods and residential buildings, and a lack of competition—Charter-Spectrum is the only option for 99% of residents.

The solution? Municipal broadband internet service. 

Upfront costs surpassed by economic, cultural & educational benefits

While there are upfront costs associated with municipal broadband internet, federal American Rescue Plan Act funds are available to cover a portion of expenses.

Increased internet access would also bring wide-ranging benefits.

  • Household & community growth: Equitable job and learning opportunities make internet access critical to households and communities. The World Bank reports that “a 10-percentage-point rise in broadband penetration adds a 1.21-percentage point rise in economic growth” in developed countries.
  • Support for businesses: Municipal broadband would benefit local businesses, says Alex Guardiola of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, since credit card readers depend on fast, reliable service.

In neighboring Shrewsbury, municipal broadband internet has empowered local decision making and improved service. It has even become a revenue stream.

  • Local control: When remote learning became a necessity during COVID, Shrewsbury’s municipal broadband provider, Shrewsbury Electric and Cable Operations (SELCO), arranged for at-home internet access for students within a week of the town’s request. 
  • Great rates & service: Shrewsbury residents enjoy competitive or less expensive options than other communities, and outstanding service. (A third-party survey revealed high customer satisfaction rates.) 
  • Municipal revenue: According to WRRB, SELCO was budgeted at $30 million in 2019. A year later it reported $32,288,450 in revenue for a net gain of $4,655,622. (Worcester’s costs would likely be higher since, unlike Shrewsbury, the City doesn’t operate its own municipal electric department.)

Increasingly, life, learning, and work takes place online. Shouldn’t all Worcester families be able to participate fully? Their success and the growth of our City depends on it.

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