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Brian Purchia

308 neighbors want access to fast, reliable, and affordable internet for everyone in San Francisco.

Is low cost, high speed Internet an economic right?
What if I told you that a hundred thousand San Franciscans, including thousands of public school students did not have electricity or water at home? I imagine many of you would be appalled and call for our government to step in and help. Now, substitute the Internet for water and electricity. Would you still be upset? According to the latest analysis from the City more than a hundred thousand residents in the land of Twitter and Salesforce, do not have access to the Internet at home. Fifty thousand more have sluggish dial-up speeds.

How is this possible? And who is responsible for fixing the situation?
Almost two years ago, CivicMakers began organizing community events on how we close the digital divide and bring a public broadband network to San Francisco. We enlisted the smartest thinkers from the public and private sector, including CPUC Commissioner Catherine Sandoval, Supervisor Mark Farrell, leaders from Mozilla, the Startup Policy Lab, EFF, Internet Archive, and Zero Divide. We asked our elected leaders to explore an issue that has largely been neglected by City Hall since the Google free Wifi effort fizzled out nearly a decade ago.

President Obama has said, “high-speed broadband is not a luxury…It’s a necessity.” Broadband Internet service “has steadily shifted from an optional amenity to a core utility” and is now “taking its place alongside water, sewer, and electricity as essential infrastructure for communities,” according to the White House. This is about equity and competing in the 21st century.
California is the birthplace of the Internet, yet we’re falling behind nationally and globally.

A teacher recently shared a story with with me about how she has had to dumb down the homework she gives her students, because she is not sure they will be able to download it at home. This is reality for nearly nine thousand San Francisco public school students. How are our children to succeed if they cannot do their homework at home?

And as Supervisor Farrell has said, “How can we expect our residents, in particular those that are having challenges breaking into the workforce, to compete for San Francisco jobs if they can’t even access the Internet?”

Today, San Francisco’s Budget and Legislative Analyst released a report on how we bring low-cost Gigabit-speed Internet to everybody in San Francisco. For the first time we have financial estimates on the costs of constructing, owning, and operating a citywide municipal fiber network.

What this report is really about is people — fairness, education and competition. The report provides policymakers with a range of costs, risks, and benefits to the City on three options for building a gigabit network 1) Public development and ownership 2) Private development and ownership and 3) Public-Private partnership development and ownership.

One thing, we cannot do is rely on the incumbent telecoms to provide access to our underserved communities. Their bottom line is making money, not the public good. The Budget and Legislative Analyst makes that clear, the analysis “found no evidence of short-term plans by any of the incumbents to invest in gigabit speed fiber-to-the-premises services Citywide.”

So, I ask how many of you would be willing to pay up to $26 for high speed internet from a variety of providers with the city retaining ownership of the network? That’s what the report suggest at maximum it would cost San Franciscans for Internet via a Public-Private partnership model. Or under a purely public, demand-driven approach they estimate they City would be on the hook for $393.7 million in construction costs and $103.2 million in annual costs.

If any city can tackle this problem — it’s San Francisco. We should be a model for others and building for the future. We have led the charge on equal rights, access to healthcare and pressing environmental issues. It is time we provided the infrastructure to all residents to compete in our modern economy. Those that cannot afford this basic right, should be offered a hand to lift them up.

I believe like many of you that Internet access is a basic economic right. It’s not a nice to have, it’s a must have in 2016. It’s time for our elected officials to follow-up on these findings and quickly begin a process to open the door for all San Franciscans to thrive and for more options than the current duopoly we have today. 

This idea was updated on 3/16/16 -

Supporters All

Alan Joseph Williams
Nick Galicia
Ben Blumenfeld
Ryan K
Erik Michaels-Ober
Patrick Keenan
Kevin Lo
Grayson Stebbins
Wilson Miner
Luke Bornheimer
Vegan Wheekers
Victor Knai
Fiona Tang
MG Siegler


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Mayor Mark Farrell, the City Administrator’s Office and the Department of Technology today announced that the City will begin the process of bringing a citywide fiber network to San Francisco that will prioritize net neutrality and privacy protections and deliver fast and affordable internet.

“Trump’s hand-picked FCC and Republicans in Congress have dismantled crucial net neutrality, privacy, and consumer protections,” said Mayor Farrell. “We will provide an alternative that favors the general public and San Francisco values, not corporate interests. Through this project, we will close the digital divide, ensure net neutrality, and create a truly fair and open internet in San Francisco.”

Today, a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) was issued seeking teams capable of designing and delivering a citywide fiber network to San Francisco. The fiber network will provide universal internet coverage in San Francisco and is a transformative effort to provide affordable, high-quality internet service for all.

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Posted Jan 31, 2018
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Supervisor Farrell "built momentum for [publicly owned broadband] by forming a coalition of neighborhood groups and a panel of academics to publish reports on the importance of a municipal fiber network. Farrell and Mayor Ed Lee also secured $600,000 in city funding for a consultant, CTC Technology and Energy, to calculate cost estimates."


Supervisor Mark Farrell pushes Internet for all in SF

The city would lay fiber-optic cable underground and contract with private companies to deliver fast, inexpensive service to all residents and businesses. “The sad reality is that San Francisco is the innovation capital of the world, and more than 100,000 San Francisco residents still do not have Internet access at home,” Farrell said, citing...

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Posted Jun 7, 2017
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"The network would be owned by the city but built and managed as a public-private partnership — an arrangement that allows the city to blunt some of the costs and risks of creating a brand-new utility. The city would maintain significant control over the price consumers would pay if they sign up for the service."

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Posted Jan 31, 2018
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"According to the new study by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, community-owned broadband networks provide consumers with significantly lower rates than their private-sector counterparts."

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Posted Jan 16, 2018
Michael McCarthy
Michael McCarthy
Jan 21, 2018

For the past 9 years I have been managing a city wide community broadband network (cbn) that provides Internet access for over 9k unique devices every day. I have done this with a small team of tech volunteers and assistance from the CCSF fiber optic team. The network uses strands of CCSF fiber to provide connectivity to over 50 sites around San Francisco. Our network also extends (via 5Ghz wireless link) to the Farallon islands for scientist on the island and a webcam.

Recently we connected over 1200 low income Tenderloin housing units to the Internet via the CBN. We have done all of this with no financial support from the CCSF. We have been very creative with partnerships and have relied on a small team of volunteers. Building community serving networks is not technically hard or very expensive.

The biggest obstacle and challenge is the lack of leadership within CCSF. The problem is no one is advocating for low income San Franciscan's to get online. Those who need and would value free/low income home internet access are not a voice that is heard at City Hall.

Our 1Gb fiber based Community Broadband Network has done a lot with almost no money. We would love to find partners who can help us upgrade our project so it can expand broadband access throughout San Francisco.

Posted by Michael McCarthy on Jan 21, 2018
Jan 22, 2018

Thanks for posting this Michael - where is the best place for folks to learn more about the CBN?

Posted by Dan on Jan 22, 2018
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Bruce Wolfe

Here's the full report to the Board of Supervisors -

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Posted Oct 20, 2017
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Former Mayor Edwin M. Lee

The internet is an essential tool for our everyday lives. #SF residents deserve equal & affordable internet access.


San Francisco moving closer to building a city-owned Internet network

San Francisco appears to be closer than ever to building a citywide municipal Internet network - an ambitious project that's proved elusive for more than a decade. City officials are poring over the findings of a comprehensive 200-page report that will serve as San Francisco's lodestar as it moves toward creating a proposed...

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Posted Oct 18, 2017
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Former Mayor Edwin M. Lee

"Now, more than ever, cities across the country must stand up and fight for equity. For more than two years, we have been working diligently to design and deploy a citywide municipal fiber network that will offer more options than currently available and ensure all of San Francisco is connected to a fast and affordable Internet.

We are working to ensure that robust Internet service is available to children looking to educate themselves, small businesses trying to expand their reach, and seniors seeking to access city services. This project aims to close the digital divide for the 100,000 San Franciscans, including 1 in 7 San Francisco public schoolchildren, who lack Internet access at home. Private industry has been unable to meet this need.

We have been building support by meeting directly with the community about their priorities and values through San Franciscans for Municipal Fiber. We have enlisted the help of the brightest academic, business and privacy experts from around the country to answer key questions as we finalize this undertaking.

While the Trump administration seeks to dismantle the Internet as we know it, we have a plan. Now, it is time to execute. We need your help. Join us in supporting an open Internet."


FCC seeks to end ‘open’ Internet but San Francisco has a plan

[...] the November election, the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates Internet service, agreed with this basic premise. Pai and his Republican allies in Congress are moving at record speeds to roll back existing consumer protections and privacy regulations. [...] Congress and the FCC collaborated to repeal broadband privacy...

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Posted Apr 27, 2017
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Great long read from Susan Crawford on why municipal fiber ("dark fiber") is the best solution for cities like SF:

"The only business model for fiber that will work to produce the competition, low prices, and world-class data transport we need — certainly in urban areas — is to get local governments involved in overseeing basic, street grid-like “dark” (passive, unlit with electronics) fiber available at a set, wholesale price to a zillion retail providers of access and services."


Google Fiber Was Doomed From the Start

The internet access answer won’t come from private markets, but rather from policies that make for competitive networks.

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Posted Mar 16, 2017
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"In the coming months, the San Francisco Municipal Fiber Blue Ribbon Panel will conduct research and provide recommendations on the most efficient and effective ways to blanket the city with broadband, an effort that could cost up to $1 billion.

If it becomes reality, San Francisco would be the largest city in the country to implement citywide high-speed Internet. City officials are currently targeting speeds of 1 gigabit per second. The average Internet speed in the U.S. is 31 megabits per second according to the most recent data published by the Federal Communications Commission, so this could be about 30 times faster."


Panel to study wiring San Francisco with high-speed Internet

San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell has assembled a group of business, privacy and academic experts to discuss crucial, early-stage questions surrounding Farrell’s plan to wire the city with high-speed Internet service. Crawford, who teaches courses on municipal uses of technology, Internet law and communications law, worked as an assistant...

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Posted Mar 14, 2017
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Mar 7, 2017

Fast, Affordable Internet for ALL San Franciscans!
Monday, March 13, 2017, 6:00pm - 8pm
Galvanize, 44 Tehama Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

Internet access is the lifeblood of our society and economy. It brings opportunity for education, connection, and prosperity. Imagine a life without internet access; this is a reality for 100,000 of San Francisco’s population. That’s right, in the hub of tech innovation, 100,000 residents do not have reliable access to the internet.

Together, we can ensure access for all! That’s where San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell comes in.
Please join Galvanize and San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell for a question and answer session on San Francisco’s efforts to deliver fast and affordable Internet to all residents and businesses in San Francisco. Hear from Supervisor Farrell on his over two years of works on this project, the immediate next steps, and how you can get involved to help make this project a reality.

Bring your questions! We’ll save plenty of time for you to interact with Supervisor Farrell.

6:00pm – Doors open, networking, light refreshments
6:30pm – Presentation from Supervisor Farrell
6:50pm – Open Q&A
8:00pm – Conclusion

Learn more:

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