Task Force to Tackle Net Neutrality, Equitable Internet Access

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The City of Somerville is assembling an Internet Access Task Force that will be charged with developing recommendations on everything from net neutrality to the possibility of municipal broadband.

“The idea is two-fold,” says Meghann Ackerman, a social media and community engagement specialist for the city who will be staffing the committee. “One is to look at ways to expand internet access, and then the other one is to look at finding ways to make sure that that access is equitable and neutral.”

The group’s first step will be to gather data about the current landscape of internet access in Somerville. Such information is typically only available on national and regional scales, not at the city level, according to Ackerman.

“In the whole Boston area there are a couple of choices for internet service providers right now, and we know for some folks internet access may be cost prohibitive,” she says. “We also have people who are accessing internet in different ways—maybe people don’t have internet in their home but they’re using it in their home.”

Everything is on the table in terms of what the task force could explore, she explains, acknowledging that there are limits to what the city might be able to enact. Possible recommendations from the group could include municipal legislation, infrastructure, and fighting for policies at the state level.

“At this point, internet access is really sort of essential for a lot of things in everyday life, from looking for jobs to doing schoolwork, it’s how a lot of people get their entertainment and news,” Ackerman says. “If things change and there’s a system where certain sites are being restricted or you’re having to pay more to access certain things, that’s definitely going to put some folks at a disadvantage, and we want to make sure that people have access to all of that information and opportunities.”

The task force will be on the larger side given its wide scope. Ackerman estimates that 15-20 people will serve on it and break into several subgroups.

The application period has ended for the task force, and about 40 applications came in, she says. The city will select people who have knowledge of or background in policy, telecommunications, technology, or community needs.

The city is still accepting applications from people who are interested in being occasional consultants for the group. To apply, send your qualifications and a statement of interest to Ackerman at mackerman@somervillema.gov.