New Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.
New Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

Seattle was left with no fiber Internet late last year after the city’s private partner, Gigabit Squared, failed to raise adequate funding for a much-anticipated high-speed network and instead left an unpaid bill of $52,250.

So what now?

A manhole cover in Seattle’s University District marks one of the access points for the city’s existing fiber-optic network, which was to be leveraged by Gigabit Squared to provide high-speed Internet to homes and businesses in the city.

New Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who took office on Jan. 1, has plans to re-assess the entire idea of bringing ultra high-speed Internet service to homes and businesses here by taking advantage of unused capacity in the city’s 500 miles of fiber-optic cabling.

In an interview with GeekWire this week, Murray made clear that this is a high priority for the city and that his team meets once per week to discuss the issue.

“We need it,” he said of faster Internet. “We’re not as connected and not as fast as we should be, given that this is one of the IT centers of the world.”

After the Gigabit Squared debacle, Murray said that he prefers a publicly-funded Internet utility — one that could mimic a model of how citizens access city light, for example. But before anything, he wants to take the time to understand who really needs something like this and what the actual challenges are.

His main worry for a publicly-funded Internet utility is the high cost — something that former Mayor Mike McGinn pegged at $600 or $700 million.

“My concern is that we can’t afford it,” Murray said.

Gigabit Squared said it would  deliver its service to these 14 neighborhoods by the end of 2014. The arrows point to the launch areas — U-District and Capitol Hill — that were supposed to have service by early next year.
Gigabit Squared planned to deliver its service to these 14 neighborhoods by the end of 2014, but that project has crumbled due to lack of funds.

The mayor said that Seattle lost an opportunity to get a public option in place years ago that would have penciled out today. For now, he’s open to both a publicly-funded service, as well as some combination of both public and private options.

“This is definitely something we need to do,” he said. “There’s an economic development component to this. There’s an education component to this. There’s a social justice component to this. The challenge is, how do we make it pay for itself?”

In light of Comcast’s $45 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable, Murray actually jumped on Reddit Thursday to answer questions about his blog post published today that argued against Comcast’s deal.

“While the City does not have the power to prevent Comcast’s $45 billion purchase of Time Warner, we can take steps to make sure competition is stronger in Seattle,” Murray wrote. “One step will be to evaluate our City’s relationship with Comcast.”

Seattle has a franchise agreement with Comcast that expires January 20, 2016. The city has already begun reviewing the relationship with Comcast and will soon reach out to the public for input.

“If we determine Comcast has not lived up to their obligations, the City of Seattle will not renew the franchise agreement,” Murray wrote.

McGinn, Seattle’s former mayor, created a bit of a firestorm during last year’s election after he accused Murray of being “Comcast’s candidate.” Those comments followed a report by the Washington Post suggesting that Comcast, along with other Internet providers, were backing Murray in hopes of putting a stop to Gigabit’s planned high-speed fiber network.

At the time, though, Murray denied those accusations and said he supported citywide high speed broadband — a stance that he’s upheld today.

Murray said he’s learned from the Gigabit mistake and will pay close attention to Internet providers willing to enter the Seattle market in the case that the city decides to again go the with a private option in some capacity.

“We actually have to have someone who has the financial ability to build out the network,” he said. “We have to have a tighter threshold when it comes to that. That’s a lesson I took a way from [Gigabit Squared]. We shouldn’t just be blindsided by the cool thing if the cool thing actually can’t happen.”

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  • Patrick Husting

    publicly-funded Internet utility is a bad idea.

    • nrc

      The city handles electricity, water, garbage and sewer just fine. Why not Internet? In fact, just add it as line-item charge on my SCL bill…

  • retired40

    Just another way for government control by the most stupid, socialistic mayor Seattle has had yet.

    • Guest

      You’ve got to be kidding me. We just ousted the most socialistic mayor Seattle has had in decades. Murray is easily the best mayor we’ve had in a long time. He already undid a ton of the moronic garbage McSchwinn implemented.

  • Josh

    Yeah, public utilities are always inferior to what the private sector can provide

    My comcast connection certainly isn’t performing well below its promised levels, the service levels they do offer aren’t far more expensive for much slower speeds than what Gigabit was promising, they haven’t been fined by the city repeatedly for failure to maintain adequate levels of customer service, they haven’t threatened to cap my bandwidth, and I’m sure they would never take advantage of the revocation of net neutrality to favor certain kinds of traffic over others. Its nothing but a stream of kittens and happiness entering my home through the little hole in my wall.

    If other providers can’t step into the market to force comcast to compete for customers I’d be more than happy if the city decides to do it themselves.

    • Delta

      Yes, but then you have to interact with Comcast. My last support interaction with them had their tech asking what an IP address was, and why I would need one from Comcast for internet access.
      The first non-Comcast ~10Mbps provider that comes to West Seattle will gain me as a subscriber. I’ll even pay more than I pay Comcast if the customer service is actually helpful…

      • goobernoodles

        Holy crap dude. Josh’s post was 100% sarcasm. Comcast is one of, if not the worst company in this country right now. It’s not borderline scary; it’s fucking frightening.

        • ableright

          It’s actually the capitalists. Brain-dead people have been told for years that competition and capital breed lower prices and better products and services.

          I think this is true as long as there is a lot of competition, but what people don’t understand is that these giant businesses like Comcast have no long term intention of competing.

          In the end the competition merges and eventually the ultimate goal is to control the market, limit supply, and charge a ton. If one company does this it’s a monopoly, and in just 2 or a few do this it’s a cartel.

          Just look at the outrageous prices AT&T and Verizon as a Duopoly are charging now for mobile data. This is what will happen next with general internet unless people do something about this.

  • GrowWashington

    We need free high speed internet for all.
    The ‘free’ market doesn’t work without competition and right now we don’t have any.

    • Alvin Humphrey

      It’s easy to say everything should be free when you are not paying billions of dollars to build and maintain the networks. Nothing is free not even clean air, thats why we have the EPA, if you dont agree go to China and choke on their air.

  • clibou

    Awesome fiber in Mount Vernon dialed in via public private partnership. Internet biz use Comcast only as backup. Come smell the Tulips.

  • Ryan

    Comcast is garbage! They treat customers so horribly! Get new Internet!

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