Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn — a longtime champion of the project who will leave office at the end of the year — acknowledged the setback in an interview with GeekWire this afternoon. He said Gigabit Squared, the company behind the project, is having problems securing financing to install the network, and he raised questions about the project’s future.
“We’re now a year into it and the question is, will it work or not?” McGinn said inside his office at City Hall. He acknowledged that he’s “very concerned it’s not going to work.”
GeekWire contacted Gigabit Squared for comment, but a company representative said executives were unavailable for comment this afternoon.
McGinn first announced the public-private partnership with Gigabit amid a great deal of fanfare one year ago after the city released a request for information to private companies interested in using the city’s 500 miles of unused cabling throughout the city.
Gigabit announced its prices eight months later, in August of this year, and had planned to begin its initial rollout of Gigabit Seattle to two of the 12 neighborhoods — University District and Capitol Hill — by Q1 of 2014. But that has since been delayed, with no new launch dates announced.
McGinn, who will be succeeded by state Sen. Ed Murray next month, said that if a private company can’t raise the money to build out a fiber-to-the-premises network with an open architecture, it’s time for Seattle to consider using tax dollars for a city-run network.
“It’s one of the things I regret that I can’t be around to be a part of, because I know what decision I’d make,” he said.
The Gigabit Squared plan became a subplot in the election after McGinn raised questions about donations from Comcast to Murray’s campaign. Murray, however, said at the time that he supported the plan to bring alternative high-speed Internet to Seattle — countering McGinn’s attempts to label him as ”Comcast’s candidate.”
McGinn said today that the incumbent Internet providers like Comcast are “not upgrading their systems in any meaningful way.”
“That means cities like Seattle are falling behind and will fall behind other places around the globe if we don’t upgrade the service,” he added.
Reached by phone this afternoon, mayor-elect Murray said it was the first he’d heard of the problem with Gigabit and needed more information before commenting.
McGinn noted that “we haven’t given up on the private sector,” but said that if he were continuing as mayor, he’d start garnering political support to build a municipal fiber utility. That’s actually something the mayor considered back in 2010, after a consultant recommended that the City find a way to build an open-access fiber-to-the-premises communication infrastructure to meet Seattle’s goals and objectives.
But at that time, McGinn believed the risk was too high to ask taxpayers to fund a project on that scale — $600 or $700 million, he noted. On top of that, McGinn also foresaw political and legal obstacles.
Now, though, it seems McGinn is at least somewhat supportive of having government build out a high-speed network with open architecture — to encourage competition — that can reach the masses. He talked about Google choosing Kansas City as its initial test-bed for Google Fiber, and said Seattle should have the same Internet options for its citizens.
“The kids are moving to Kansas City right now because they want to get that fiber,” McGinn said. “I don’t want to say anything bad about Kansas City, but we want the kids to come here. We want the entrepreneurs who want that high speed to come here.”