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Seattle Underground (Photo via Rennett Stowe)

The solution to Pioneer Square’s Internet connectivity problems may be found in a cavernous, mid-19th century underworld. The City of Seattle is currently engaged in a plan to bring high-speed Internet to buildings in a four block area along First Avenue South, using the subterranean passageways in the neighborhood’s famous underground to string fiber optic cable to bandwidth-starved technology companies. Bill Schrier, chief technology officer for the City of Seattle, laid out the proposal in an interview with GeekWire this week.

“We are actually putting the conduit in, and we are cord drilling from the place where City Light is (cutting) the streets to the area way — and the area way is essentially Underground Seattle, the place under the sidewalks,” explained Schrier. “From the area way, companies will be able to string that fiber optic cable to a lot of the buildings along First Avenue.”

Pioneer Square

The project is running from Cherry Street to King Street on First Avenue South, but Schrier is hopeful that they may eventually be able to access other parts of Pioneer Square utilizing the underground area.

First Avenue South has been undergoing a major construction project over the past few weeks, with crews at Seattle City Light placing electrical conduit under the street as part of the Viaduct deconstruction project. Since the street was already being torn up, Mayor Mike McGinn pushed a plan forward to put empty conduit into the street which could eventually house fiber optic cable.

The City of Seattle plans to issue a request for proposal in the next couple of months, calling on Internet Service Providers to bid on the project. Given the number of technology companies located along First Avenue South, Schrier believes that Internet Service Providers like Comcast and Qwest will be interested. The goal is to have high-speed service available to businesses by the end of the year, he said.

Internet service has been a problem for years in the neighborhood, a historic district which requires additional attention when it comes to construction. Tearing up cobblestone streets, and then restoring them, is not cheap.  Plus, Schrier says that the complex network of wiring under Seattle complicates matters.

“There’s a ton of stuff already under the streets so you’ll run into gas mains and traffic signaling wires and other things,

Bill Schrier

which further complicates the digging up of the street,” he said. “That’s why the providers like Comcast and Qwest haven’t provided service in the past.”

Once providers can cross First Avenue South, Schrier said ISPs may be able to tap into existing fiber optic cable systems in the neighborhood.

Since the street was already being torn up, Schrier said that the “stars kind of aligned” for the project. Eventually, he said it could be interesting to create an economic development initiative around the concept, creating a “network of the future, so to speak.”

Previously on GeekWire: “Seattle’s hottest neighborhood offers crappy Internet service, drug dealers”



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