By Anne Schwieger, City of Boston Department of Innovation and Technology, Broadband and Digital Equity Advocate
Boston is growing quickly. By 2030, it is estimated that Boston will be home to over 700,000 residents, an increase of eight percent from our current population and a number Boston has not seen since before 1960. To house our growing population, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has laid out a plan to create 53,000 new units of housing. It is vital that each new or renovated space is able to offer occupants a range of high-speed internet offerings.
With all this in mind, the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) and the City of Boston Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) saw in Article 80–the part of the zoning code dealing with review of large development projects–an opportunity to proactively engage with the development community around the state of broadband connectivity in the city’s building stock. In order to accomplish this, we added a section to Article 80’s Project Notification Form called the Broadband Ready Buildings Questionnaire, which will include questions about broadband infrastructure in new and renovated developments. This Questionnaire will help us to get a sense early on from the broadband provider community about their plans to provide service to the building. Our hope is that this will smooth the deployment process, preventing delays in building openings or gaps in service for residents.
Developers will fill out the Questionnaire at the earliest stage of the review process, which will allow us to have good conversations with developers and our colleagues in the BPDA. We plan to use this opportunity to learn from one another and build on each other’s efforts.
This process involved collaboration between DoIT and BPDA as well as a partnership with WiredScore. WiredScore has created a commercial real estate rating system that empowers landlords to understand, improve, and promote their buildings’ digital infrastructure. WiredScore has a robust set of questions as part of their criteria, and they allowed us to utilize many of them in our Questionnaire. We knew there was no need to reinvent the wheel given their extensive work in this field, and are grateful to have them as partners. The Broadband Ready Building Questionnaire is the result of a huge team effort.
The questionnaire is not a regulatory tool, and the BPDA will not require that developers pursue Wired Certification. It is designed to be an opportunity for learning and information gathering about how developers are approaching various elements of broadband planning in the early phases of the development process. We hope that by asking what we think are some really good questions, we can nudge behavior in a direction that supports choice and competition as a part of overall building readiness to serve current and future residents.
Our hope is that this experience will build a common perspective between city governments, ISPs, and the development community. We want to really move the needle on big goals related to competition, choice, and equity. To do that, it is vital we make sure that our building stock is set up in a way that is responsive to resident needs and changes in technology.
As next steps, we are really looking forward to getting feedback from developers and ISPs. We need to learn from both groups to make sure we are asking the right questions and engaging in a way that allows ISPs to have easy, equal, and fair access to buildings. We are also discussing the potential of an education component with city staff and members of the development community. We look forward to seeing what the effect of these programs will have on future builds and the state of broadband service in Boston.