“This legislation would create a task force that would formulate comprehensive policy recommendations on how the District of Columbia can set up free public wireless internet.”

by Prince Of Petworth January 10, 2017 at 3:30 pm 15 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Pablo Raw

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“Free Wi-Fi For All of DC

Brandon Todd
Council of the District of Columbia, Ward-4
Chair, Committee on Government Operations

Today, I will be introducing the Wi-Fi Task Force Act of 2017. This bill would create a task force to provide comprehensive policy recommendations on how the District can efficiently provide free wireless internet access thru the construction and operation of a municipality broadband network. Communities across the United States are already successfully operating municipal broadband networks and it is time for the District to foster the development of advanced broadband facilities and services for our communities, residents and visitors.

The District government has forged ahead with inclusive and diverse policies such as increasing the living wage, the minimum wage and expanding the Marion Barry Summer Youth Program with the aim to improve income equality for all District residents. A municipal broadband network providing free wireless internet to the entire District is the next step.

The digital divide is an economic divide. Our lower income citizens unable to afford internet access are becoming more vulnerable. Job postings and job applications are online now. Eighty percent of Fortune 500 companies only accept job applications online. Our “disconnected” students are at a disadvantage. Homework, study guides, research tools, college scholarships and applications, financial aid applications, and class registration are online now. A municipal broadband network will help bridge the gap for our lower income residents.

Free wireless internet in the District will also boost our economy and be valuable for our tourists. Research shows that customers spend more money when free wi-fi is available. For our locally owned businesses, that can mean increased revenue. For tourists, free wi-fi helps them discover a great restaurant, find museum hours, and navigate the best transportation options for their travel around the District.

President Obama’s ConnectHome and the FCC’s Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan program have already allotted billions of dollars towards providing internet access to all Americans. Access to federal funding can lower the financial burden on the District’s pursuit to provide high speed broadband to all its residents.

The internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, and essential to everyday life. Broadband access for all our citizens, regardless of their income or which ward they reside in, is vital to eliminating the digital divide and the economic divide. The New Year brings new opportunities and the Wi-Fi Task Force Act of 2017 is an opportunity to allow all Washingtonians to prosper.”

  • Ally

    This would be awesome.

  • tacopuss

    DC has a community broadband network; unfortunately, to placate Comcast, the government promised to not sell it to actual consumers.

  • mcd

    This sounds like a network security nightmare…one I would love to bid on fixing :-)

  • Mug of Glop

    I knew this would be inevitable once the DC Council proposed free public restrooms so people would have a reliable method to surf the internet while they were in there, but I didn’t expect it to come only two posts later!

    • hahaha!

    • PetlessInPetworth


    • Anonymous

      Every stall includes an iPad and a Squatty Pottty!

  • John

    Every library has free wifi already, so wifi is there for those who need it for education or career advancement purposes. Meanwhile, DC could still use a lot of work on its schools, homelessness, healthcare access, recidivism issues, etc. Perhaps the Council can refocus its efforts on the tough issues.

    • jonah

      I imagine this is a case of different Council Committee’s serving different functions. And all of them being able to work at the same time. CM Todd chairs the Committee on Government Operations, CM Grosso chairs the Committee on Education (schools), CM Allen chairs the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety (recidivism), etc. It isn’t that the Council is focusing its resources on public wi-fi, it is that the Committee which oversees government services including public wi-fi is focusing its resources on it.

    • notconvinced

      Keep in mind, while there’s work to be done.. we spend more per capita on programs like education and the homeless than just about anyone else. I don’t disagree with you that these are critical programs where more work is needed… but this is not a one or the other situation.

      Also, I believe this would be helpful for education, helpful for healthcare access and potentially even helpful to the homeless. It provides little value to me personally, and I’m sure the cost through my taxes is more than my comcast bill, but many studies have been shown that internet access is critical in low income households.

    • MadMax

      Zero homelessness would obviously be ideal, but barring that this is one of the best areas in the country with respect to services for homeless people.

  • ah

    I love me free wifi as much as the next person, but could someone explain why the city should spend loads of money on it?

    I understand the “digital divide”, but isn’t this massively overbroad for that? Most of the users are likely to be people who have plenty of access to the Internet, whether through their mobile data plans, their home, or their work. And many of those are probably non-taxpaying Virginians and Marylanders (I’ll give tourists a bit of a pass on this).

    Wouldn’t any money be better spent equipping genuinely poor people with (a) discounted computers/phones; (b) limited data plans; (c) better Internet access in certain places open to the public such as libraries and even shelters, etc.?

    • [rrrrr]

      Subsidy programs have their own set of problems. How do you promote enrollment? How do you measure and verify eligibility? Why exactly should we be padding Comcasts margins? There are actually Federal programs that down everything you laid out, and still the digital divide is massive in a lot of places, though I can’t remember DCs stats off hand.
      Plus utilities are on of the classic examples of economies of scale. The marginal costs are tiny in the grand scheme of things so why not just open it up to everyone.
      I’m sensitive to the MD/VA leecher problem, but that’s an issue with so many of our services. At some point we just need nice things. We can’t be in a race to the bottom with Annapolis and Richmond. Also, I believe there has been some research on the economic benefits to universal access in terms of more business for our shops and restaurants.

    • MadMax

      Bowser phones for everyone!

  • Michael Pierce

    While it sounds like a wonderful idea in theory, I have an extremely hard time believing that the District would possess the competence to make it work with consistent reliability or security. And paying someone to implement it properly on that scale would cost a fortune when there are far more pressing needs at hand.


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