Mayor Ed Murray at today’s press conference.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is getting serious about helping his constituents access faster Internet.

In a press conference today announcing CenturyLink’s new gigabit Internet offering in Seattle, Murray said that he will submit legislation to City Council that will change a rule and allow companies like CenturyLink to more easily build out fiber networks.

In order to reach residents with a fiber network, telecom companies must install new equipment boxes in neighborhoods. However, SDOT Director’s Rule 2-2009 makes this quite difficult because it currently requires approval from at least 60 percent of homeowners within a 100 feet radius of a given box.

Murray noted how the rule was created when these boxes looked like “large refrigerators,” but now that the fiber boxes are smaller, he wants to amend the law and allow more companies to build fiber networks in Seattle.

Former City of Seattle CTO Bill Schrier explained the “appalling” rule in his post from earlier this year detailing why Google Fiber will never come to Seattle:

SDOT requires that 60 percent of the homeowners within 100 feet of a proposed new cabinet must give written consent to allow the cabinet to be placed in the right-of-way. In many neighborhoods, of course, properties are inhabited by renters, making homeowners very hard to track down.

This rule appears to be unique in the nation. Certainly it is not used by any other city in the Seattle area, or by Phoenix, Denver or Minneapolis. As a result, telecommunications companies invest their dollars for improving broadband elsewhere, and cities like Graham, Washington, have much faster Internet speeds than Seattle.

Citizens’ groups have tried to change this rule. UPTUN (Upping Technology for Underserved Neighbors) has been working on it for four years to little avail. And again, this is a rule, not a law or ordinance, which means it could be changed with just a stroke of the SDOT Director’s or Mayor’s pen.

There was an odd moment during today’s press conference when CenturyLink Seattle General Manager Sue Anderson noted how her company’s gigabit rollout announced today did not require changes to the Director’s Rule since it is utilizing an aerial deployment. Just as she said that, Murray stepped in.

centurylink“We need to codify these changes before we allow this to proceed,” Murray said, referring to changes in the Director’s Rule.

CenturyLink plans to offer 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) — about 100 times faster than the average national broadband speed — to residents in four neighborhoods beginning this year and into 2015.

CenturyLink’s fiber offering comes eight months after plans to bring gigabit Internet to thousands of Seattle residents crumbled after Cincinnati-based Gigabit Squared failed to raise enough money to implement a planned high-speed Internet network in 14 Seattle neighborhoods using the city’s dormant “dark fiber” network. Gigabit, which is now being sued by the City of Seattle for an unpaid bill, planned to offer 1 Gbps for $80 per month.

CenturyLink, which was fined today by Washington state regulators over billing errors, will not be using the city’s dark fiber for its gigabit network for now and instead will be built on the company’s existing fiber network.

[Editor’s Note: CenturyLink is a GeekWire sponsor.]

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  • imaginetheworldphotos

    I have attended the City meetings where this has been discussed. The Directors rule will allow not just Centurylink but all public providers to vie for space for their single/multi refrigerator size boxes just to push their services closer to the end user. There is an underground and a pole olution, that is available but not cost effective to the providers. This is a questionable decision, since it will potentially block the vision of motorists, bicycle riders and lower property values. I have never heard of an exit strategy for these older technology solutions. Who removes the boxes? What about graffiti? Wireless is a real forward looking solution. That will strengthen Seattle for the future. I don’t recommend this solution.

  • boop

    Restricting not restricing. Fix your headline. :-)

    • Taylor Soper

      Good catch boop, just fixed!

  • imaginetheworldphotos

    I had additional thoughts to add. Fiber to the home for High Speed connectivity for home-workers, gaming, homework and content is important. Lifestyles have changed to where we expect the same experience for our digital lives wherever we are and no matter what device we want to use. End-users don’t care who the provider I…they just want it. Seattle needs to invest in a ubiquitous cost-effective solution, using secure, multiple avenues, including wired and wireless to connect end-users to become a fully functioning city. We need to create this for all people in Seattle not just for those that can afford to pay for it.

  • guest

    If a company is going to install a box of any size in my front yard, they should have to get my consent. My neighbors front yard? Depends on the size of the box. They should eliminate the rule for boxes that replace and are smaller than existing boxes and keep it for fridge size boxes. For everything in between, the bigger the box, the bigger the impact on the neighbors.

  • panacheart

    The real problem is we don’t have any competition. We have Comcast, and Century Link (Quest), and they’re both predatory and terrible providers. Both companies arguably have the worst customer experience of any consumer product or service I can think of.

    We need to make it easier to build out fiber networks, but we really need to open up this field to competition so we’re not limited to the two worst choices in the world.

    • mdriftmeyer

      Welcome to 1980 and Reagan’s break up of Ma Bell. This deregulation of the national phone company resulted in regional monopolies for the telephone industry. There were 12 and now they are slowly being consumed, but have reached a point that conglomeration now is no longer feasible, but the legal handcuffs are in full effect.

      In essence, Reagan screwed us. Each Telco has a guaranteed monopoly [Reagan phoned it as competition when it was a crock of crap]. Each Cable company has a regional monopoly. If Satellite providers were around in 1980 you wouldn’t have the option of playing DISH v. DirecTV and more.

      Municipalities should be able to manage their cities Telcos, but then Libertarians and GOP wingnuts wine about Socialism. It’s a broken record of stupid. It’s a freaking utility and they know it.

      Then again they’ve created PUDS that are monopolies as well that are protected and continue to jack up their rates.

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