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City of Cambridge Releases Comprehensive Digital Equity Study

caution sign The information on this page may be outdated as it was published 3 years ago.

The City of Cambridge today released Digital Equity in Cambridge: Data and Strategic Recommendations, the final report for the city’s comprehensive digital equity study. The report provides a complete and clear understanding of the problems and gaps preventing Cambridge residents from making the most effective and meaningful use of broadband (high speed internet access) in the city. Additionally, the report suggests a range of solutions for the city to pursue to address the findings that emerged around broadband access, affordability, digital skills, and device ownership.

Cambridge partnered with CTC Technology (CTC) to conduct the study. CTC is a nationally recognized firm that offers independent strategic, technical, and financial guidance primarily to public sector and nonprofit entities. The report will serve as the foundation for the city’s future digital equity and broadband initiatives. CTC has helped develop digital equity strategies for other cities including Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington.

"We are creating a comprehensive approach to ensure digital equity and 21st century broadband access in our city,” said Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale. "The Digital Equity in Cambridge report will inform our strategy to ensure affordable broadband access, digital skills, and device ownership for all residents.”

Key Findings

The Digital Equity in Cambridge report surfaces and explores key findings based on the robust data collected, including:

  • Comcast remains an effective monopoly in much of Cambridge’s fixed internet market, but NetBlazr has expanded, and a new provider, Starry, recently began competing in the city; 
  • Comcast’s $10 Internet Essentials plan appears significantly underused by potentially eligible residents in Cambridge; 
  • Speed tests conducted over several weeks in Comcast customer homes demonstrate a need for user education in managing in-home networks; 
  • Citywide internet usage survey shows most residents are connected to the internet but point to more problems with affordability, devices, and skills for older and lower-income residents;  
  • Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) internet usage survey finds many residents face significant challenges related to affordability, device maintenance, and computer skills;  
  • City stakeholders defined a variety of gaps and made programmatic suggestions; 
  • Interviews with residents of CHA and subsidized housing units reveal some pay $10 monthly while others pay $264 monthly to Comcast; and  
  • Strategies outlined by subject-matter experts and practitioners in other cities that have proven effective elsewhere in the country.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the critical role that internet access, device ownership, and digital skills play in successful online learning, job searching, remote work, and telemedicine,” said City of Cambridge Director of Communications Lee Gianetti. “This new report provides the city with a framework for expanding existing programs, creating new initiatives, and learning from digital equity efforts in other cities.”


The study provides a range of recommended strategies the city can deploy to address the digital equity challenges within Cambridge, including:

  • Convene a digital equity and inclusion coalition to guide implementation efforts; 
  • Expand the city’s $50,000 pilot program into a Digital Equity Fund emphasizing device and skills programs; 
  • Consider establishing a community digital equity specialist position or similar public support function; 
  • Engage local philanthropic organizations to broaden the reach of broadband equity initiatives; 
  • Partner with organizations that provide low-cost devices and training to Cambridge residents and expand loaner programs; 
  • Establish a digital skills training corps; 
  • Conduct a municipal broadband feasibility study that allows exploration of a variety of partnership and facilitation models;  
  • Facilitate the provision of additional providers of low-cost service in more CHA developments; 
  • Expand public Wi-Fi and charging stations in core areas, such as Porter and Central squares; and
  • Promote the new Emergency Broadband Benefit program to provide temporary relief on bills and purchases for eligible Cambridge residents.

“In the 21st century, digital equity spans nearly every dimension of life, from education and work, to social engagement and civic participation,” said Cambridge Chief Information Officer Patrick McCormick. “Like other inequities, the pandemic exacerbated how anyone lacking online tools and connectivity became disadvantaged in their daily lives. Fortunately, the pandemic also created richer data and tangible use cases to spark conversations and inform analysis. The Digital Equity Study provides clear and compelling insights and recommendations to build a more equitable and inclusive digital future for Cambridge residents and businesses.”

In response to some early study findings and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Cambridge has already taken specific actions to:

  • Launch a $50,000 pilot program to assist up to 415 families in obtaining $10 Internet Essentials subscriptions; 
  • Redirect study resources to allow CTC later this year to conduct a preliminary high-level engineering and cost estimation work for high-speed residential broadband service in three CHA developments: Newtowne Court, Washington Elms, and the Manning Apartments; 
  • Engage in preliminary discussions with Life Science Cares, a nonprofit organization that funds anti-poverty programs and expressed interest in being part of a public-private partnership to address digital inequities; 
  • Accelerate the Cambridge Public Schools laptop and hotspot provision efforts, providing all students with laptops and (where needed) hotspots. The Cambridge Public Library also began its first-ever technology lending programs; and 
  • Partner with the Cambridge Public Library, the MetroNorth Regional Employment Board, and Cambridge Community Foundation to provide essential technology, including Chromebooks, hotspots, and webcams, to adult learners participating in Cambridge Community Learning Center programs.

Background on Methodology

This study, prepared throughout late 2019 and 2020, did not presuppose what the problems were or what the solutions should be. It thoroughly explored access, affordability, digital skills, and device ownership. The study methodology included the following activities:

  • Analyzed consumer and FCC pricing and availability data to understand the local broadband market, the presence of competition, and any market changes since the City of Cambridge commissioned its earlier broadband study;  
  • Through a variety of means (surveys, resident interviews, and conversations with local broadband providers) gathered data on the usage of existing low-cost broadband subsidy programs, particularly the $10 Comcast Internet Essentials program;  
  • Conducted a statistically valid mail survey of a sample of the entire city population to understand broadband usage patterns, sentiments, and gaps;  
  • Conducted a statistically valid mail survey of a sample of residents of the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) and of subsidized housing for a closer look at lower-income residents and any challenges they face; 
  • Interviewed a range of stakeholders representing city departments, nonprofits, schools, library, and others (we also have appended the work of the Cambridge Nonprofit Coalition, which separately conducted a survey of local nonprofit staff); 
  • Interviewed a sampling of Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) and subsidized housing residents who volunteered to be interviewed as part of our mail survey, to understand what they pay for services, and what challenges they face; 
  • Conducted in-home internet speed tests of Comcast customers to take hourly measurements over a period of weeks to evaluate service quality and assess potential sources of reported problems, albeit at an anecdotal level; 
  • Interviewed practitioners and experts who have studied or implemented digital equity plans and programs in other cities to glean lessons and suggest strategies that might assist the city and its stakeholders in implementing solutions; and 
  • Developed several strategic and programmatic recommendations based on all of the above research and data, informed as well by the examples of models in other cities.

Creating a digital equity and inclusion coalition to help guide and support implementation of study recommendations will be one of the early action items. While the Digital Equity in Cambridge study lays out strategies to address digital equity challenges within Cambridge, implementation will require engagement from a variety of internal and external stakeholders and the establishment of an implementation timeline. Detailed planning and implementation plans will be managed by staff from the Information Technology Department and the City Manager’s Office. 

Download a copy of the report, Digital Equity in Cambridge: Data and Strategic Recommendations. Print copies are available upon request. Please call the City Manager’s Office at 617-349-4300 to schedule a pick-up.




Page was posted on 4/20/2021 4:08 PM
Page was last modified on 7/24/2023 9:48 PM
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