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Supervisor's Report

Pursuing low-cost citywide gigabit-speed Internet for everyone

When you turn on the faucet, clean water comes out. When you turn on the light switch, the lights come on. And when you open your laptop, desktop, tablet, or phone, everyone should have access to a fast Internet connection — whether you live in Pacific Heights or the Bayview.

More than any other invention in recent memory, the Internet has completely revolutionized the way we communicate, work, share information, and live our everyday lives. Access to fast and affordable Internet is no longer a luxury; it is an absolute necessity in today’s world.

Over time, the Internet has shifted from a useful amenity to what should now be viewed as a core utility just like we view water and power.

How can we expect our children to compete and thrive in the 21st century if they are not even able to do their homework or research for a project at home? Unfortunately, that is the current reality for thousands of public school students across San Francisco.

How can we expect our residents, in particular those who are having challenges breaking into the workforce, to compete for San Francisco jobs if they can’t even access the Internet at home? Unfortunately, that is the current reality for more than 100,000 San Franciscans. Approximately one in eight San Franciscans does not have access to the Internet at home.

How can we expect seniors to acquire digital literacy skills and to stay socially connected without access to the Internet at home? Currently, only 69 percent of San Francisco residents over the age of 65 have access to the Internet at home.

The human cost and toll of the digital divide in San Francisco is real and damaging. Residents who need the Internet the most are being sold short and left behind in the 21st century. In San Francisco, the innovation capital of the world, this is simply unacceptable.

A MISSION FOR GOVERNMENT

If you believe that it is in the government’s best interest to ensure equal access and opportunity to advance the public good, then closing the digital divide and providing fast and affordable Internet for everyone in San Francisco must be a top priority for our policymakers.

It is for me.

That is why I first requested almost nine months ago that we as a city for the first time in San Francisco’s history publicly analyze different options, including financial estimates, to develop a citywide gigabit-speed fiber network. I specifically asked the city to examine and provide the financial estimates necessary to construct, own, and operate a municipal fiber network that could provide at least gigabit speeds to everyone in San Francisco. The report was released earlier this month and provides recommendations about different approaches and models the city could use to deliver low-cost citywide gigabit-speed Internet for everyone in San Francisco.

With the data and costs in hand, in March I established a Municipal Fiber Advisory Panel co-chaired by Miguel Gamino, current head of our city’s Department of Technology, and with Jay Nath, head of our mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, to lead the panel. The panel will also be composed of broadband experts from inside and outside of City Hall and will advise the mayor and Board of Supervisors on future fiber network expansion and the best paths forward.

My goals for the fiber network include ensuring that the public owns the network from day one, providing a baseline of Internet service for all San Francisco residents, exploring subsidies for low-income households in need, permanently closing the digital divide, and ultimately choosing the most cost-effective option possible to meet all these goals.

I am not interested in any options that still leave 100,000 San Francisco residents without Internet access at home. This entire effort is about building our 21st-century infrastructure and making sure everybody in San Francisco benefits. At one point in our history people stopped digging individual wells and built pipes to modernize our water infrastructure. The time has come for our city to do the same when it comes to our Internet infrastructure.

Clearly there are challenges ahead, but the challenges are not insurmountable. And, after this analysis, I am more committed than ever to bringing low-cost citywide gigabit Internet to everyone in San Francisco.

If any city can tackle the digital divide and bring gigabit Internet to everyone, it is San Francisco. Our city has the chance to create a replicable model that other communities can use to solve the same digital divide that exists in every community across the country, and I look forward to leading the charge.

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E-mail: mark.farrell@sfgov.org

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