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The Seattle City Council today unanimously approved legislation removing “excessive administrative requirements” for telecom companies that want to build broadband utility boxes in neighborhoods.

Previously, companies had to get 60 percent approval and written consent from homeowners within 100 feet of a proposed new box. As noted by former City of Seattle CTO Bill Schrier earlier this year, this “appalling” SDOT Director’s Rule made it difficult for telecom companies like CenturyLink and Google to offer fiber service in Seattle, one of the only cities to enforce this type of rule.

Today, though, the City axed the 60 percent rule with its new legislation, which also incentivizes broadband companies to use new, smaller boxes that councilmembers say are necessary for the delivery of high-speed gigabit Internet.

CenturyLinkThe decision comes as CenturyLink prepares to offer gigabit Internet to residential and business customers in four Seattle neighborhoods starting in 2015.

Previously, the company said it was only using aerial units and that SDOT Director’s Rule 2-2009 wouldn’t affect installation. Now, though, CenturyLink told GeekWire today that it will “be using a mix of aerial and above ground units” to install its gigabit network.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

“CenturyLink is happy with the dissolution of the Director’s Rule so the citizens of Seattle can get access to the technology they demand at a faster pace,” the company said in a statement.

Last month at a press conference announcing CenturyLink’s new gigabit Internet offering in Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray noted how the old rules were created when the utility boxes looked like “large refrigerators.” But now that the fiber boxes are smaller, he expressed interest in changing the rule to allow more companies to build fiber networks in Seattle.

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

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

In a statement, Councilmember Bruce Harrell said that the City went through “an extensive community process” before coming to today’s decision.

“Next-generation fiber broadband is vital for our students’ education, helps mitigate traffic by allowing residents to work from home, and businesses and startups benefit by stimulating innovation and jobs,” he said. “We must continue to think outside the box to create an environment competitive for companies to build fiber to your home and business.”

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.

Here’s exactly what the new Council Bill entails:

  • Incentivizes smaller cabinets (less than 36”) that deliver faster connection bandwidth by streamlining the permitting and outreach requirements.
  • Provides a dis-incentive for siting larger cabinets by requiring additional public outreach and visual mitigation for cabinets taller than 36”.
  • Eliminates “veto power” from adjacent property owner as currently required in SDOT Director’s Rule 2-2009.
  • Eliminates requirement of obtaining 60% approval from within 100 feet on proposed installation as currently required by SDOT Director’s Rule 2-2009.
  • Requires written notification to all residents, businesses, and property owners within 100-foot radius if the proposed installation cabinet is greater than 36 inches in height.
  • Requires screening mitigation such as landscaping and vinyl wrap for new cabinet installations in residential zones above 36 inches.
  • Removes graffiti in a timely manner.
  • Requires all service providers to submit quarterly reports to SDOT that describe each complaint received, how complaint was resolved, and how long it took to resolve the complaint.
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