Boston Foundation report documents progress towards a Boston WiFi network

February 15, 2006

Boston  –A report released today by the Boston Foundation titled Boston Unplugged: Mapping a Wireless Future charts the significant progress Boston has made towards a wireless fidelity connection to the Internet that would be available to every resident of the city. Wifi, as it is better known, has been widely discussed since several cities across the country announced plans in 2005 to develop such a system.

Boston Unplugged  was released at an Understanding Boston Forum, co-sponsored by the Boston Foundation and the Museum of Science, at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in the South End. The Institute, founded in 1908 under the terms of the will of Benjamin Franklin, has a singular history as a site for advances in communications technology: in May 1916, the first national group telephone transmission took place here, linking the cities of San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York City and Boston. The event was marked by speakers including Alexander Graham Bell, founder of the telephone, and his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, immortalized in the first telephone transmission.

The report comes a week after Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced the formation of a Task Force that will include leaders from business, education, city government and the community. The Task Force will be led by Joyce Plotkin, President of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council; Rick Burnes, co-founder of Charles River Ventures, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Museum of Science, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Boston Foundation; and Jim Cash, a former professor at the Harvard Business School; and will report on a plan and a timetable to the Mayor by the middle of the summer.

“WiFi is an essential tool for life as we move forward in the Knowledge Economy,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “This project speaks directly to our need to compete with other cities and across the country for young talent. As the Task Force begins its work, this report makes visible all the work the city administration has accomplished, building a foundation for a true WiFi network.”
The importance of wireless access to Boston’s continued progress in education and corporate competitiveness was underscored by Rick Burnes.

“In addition to expanding opportunities for our city’s current workforce, Wifi initiatives will open new horizons for the next generation of innovators and leaders” said Burnes.

A host of city projects and public-private partnerships in recent years have already brought Wifi to neighborhoods, housing communities and individual streets within Boston. Examples of successful programs include the Computer Clubhouse at the Museum of Science, which was established in collaboration with the MIT Media Laboratory beginning in 1993, to engage inner city youth by providing access to new technologies. Elsewhere, the Timothy Smith Centers offer computer training in Greater Roxbury, with a total of 39 centers established by the city offering job training, educational enrichment and open access to the Internet for community residents.

In addition, the Main Streets Program includes a recent initiative by Mayor Menino to bring wireless technology to Boston’s many community commercial centers. Residential communities have also received network technology, including Tent City, a mixed income 269-unit housing development in the South End and Camfield Estates in Lower Roxbury. Newbury Street currently offers a free Internet Café and wireless network opportunities for visitors, city residents and businesses along one of the city’s best known commercial streets.

“It is critical for us to close the ‘Digital Divide that separates us into have and have-not populations,’ said Grogan. “This plan moves us toward the day when Internet access will be thought of as a utility, a tool for every member of the community. This will empower parents to get more involved in their children’s education, residents better connected to the neighborhoods they live in, and will strengthen the delivery of city services at a significant cost savings.”

The content of the report was driven in part by a study funded by the Boston Foundation and executed by the Museum of Science, coordinated with the office of City Councilor John Tobin, to help guide the development of a Wireless strategy for Boston. Regular meetings convened at City Hall included communications industry professionals, community leaders and advocates. An online survey invited city residents to register their support for the idea and to describe their interests and concerns about such a network. People responded from every community in Boston and many suburban communities, as well.

“Wireless networks provide accessibility and therefore have the potential to serve the community with opportunities to learn about and participate in an increasingly technological world.” said Brian Worobey, Vice President of Information Systems at the Museum of Science and a co-author of the report. “It’s exciting to be part of efforts that will forward the city’s wireless capabilities and have an impact on a variety of areas from economic and community development to government efficiencies and public safety.”

A Wireless Summit meeting of interested area residents and experts followed in May, 2005. A key conclusion of the survey and the summit was the need to affirm Boston’s long-held reputation as a leader in education, biotechnology, health care and in innovation itself. It was pointed out that these attributes—Boston’s ability to compete in an increasingly flat and mobile world—will be determined by the quality of the region’s communications infrastructure.

Copies of the report are available online in PDF format.


The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation, with an endowment of over $731 million.  In 2005, the Foundation and its donors made more than $60 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of $73 million.  The Foundation is made up of some 850 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes.  The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to address the community’s and region’s most pressing challenges.  For more information about the Boston Foundation, visit  or call 617-338-1700.


One of the world’s largest science centers, the Museum of Science takes a hands-on approach to science, attracting visitors through its vibrant programs and interactive exhibits. Program highlights include the Computer Clubhouse, which is recognized as a successful learning model that uses technology creatively to bridge the “digital divide” and make a difference in the lives of inner-city youth and the Current Science & Technology Center, where Museum educators offer live science and technology focused presentations. In 2004, the Museum launched the National Center for Technological Literacy. With Massachusetts as the first state to develop statewide curricular frameworks and assessments for engineering at all levels K-12, the Center is helping facilitate a nationwide expansion of technology literacy by working with regional schools, offering educational products and programs for pre-K-12 students and teachers, creating curricula, and supporting an online resource center. In addition, the Center is working in partnership with other institutions across the country to create exhibits and programs that engage visitors in engineering, helps them explore cutting-edge technologies, and encourages them to consider and discuss the interactions between technology and society.