Somerville, MA issues RFI for citywide WiFi network

Somerville, Massachusetts (pop. 77,000; 4 square miles) has issued a Request for Interest (RFI) for its municipal Wi-Fi network. The city wants to achieve three goals:

  • improve public service: give city personnel access to data while they are out in the field, enhance public safety;
  • bridge the digital divide: inexpensive wireless broadband access for all residents; and
  • encourage more economic development and innovation.

Companies and non-profits that send in proposals must ensure that their plans encourage competition and consumer choice, and that the network is open to all applications and service providers (net neutrality).

The city is giving respondents a lot of freedom to propose the best network for the community. In this regard, Somerville has several strong points:

  • city-owned fiber
  • mounting rights to traffic and light poles
  • 30 city-owned buildings where access points can be mounted
  • high-density community with a lot of students and professors from Harvard, MIT, Tufts
  • low buildings
  • lots of public squares and university lawns where students congregate

Responses are due by 27 February 2009. Download the Somerville citywide wireless RFI (or if that link does not work go to You can also request it from:

Rositha Durham, Purchasing Director
City of Somerville
93 Highland Avenue, Somerville, MA 02143
Phone: 617-625-6600 x3400
Fax: 617-625-1344

What I would propose for Somerville

I lived in Somerville, close to Porter Square, in my first year at Harvard Law School and if there’s any place that’s perfect for a network that blends in public access and municipal services, it’s this one. So here’s what I hope respondents will propose to the city:

  • wireless automated meters in houses and commercial buildings (if they can get the public utility to work with them)
  • field applications for city inspectors
  • public safety applications for police, fire and emergency personnel
  • traffic management: controlling traffic signals on Mass. Ave., the main thoroughfare between Cambridge and Somerville
  • public WiFi access in the squares and outdoor areas (students run around with WiFi devices like the iPhone and the iPod Touch) and would really appreciate having low-cost or free WiFi so they can access email, websites, Google Maps and search, etc.

I have written about two small cities that have used their city-owned fiber to create a municipal wireless broadband network for municipal uses and public WiFi access. If you are planning to respond to Somerville’s RFI, you will want to look carefully at these examples:

South Carolina city uses muni wireless for energy management, public safety, free WiFi

Ponca City, Oklahoma blends municipal wireless with energy management

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  1. Webster Ash says

    This is great! I just moved here from Portland where I had use Clear wireless internet ( and it came with a WiMAX connection that stretched throughout the greater downtown Portland area for a really small fee of $30. Since I’ve been here I’ve craved the same kind of service, and now its here! When I was in Portland I used an affordable wireless USB modem that I purchased from Clear. Will I need something similar to access this network?

  2. Webster,

    Are you in Boston now? Are you saying there’s WiMAX service in Boston?