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Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

Seattle citizens need better and more affordable Internet.

That’s the vibe from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s blog post this morning, in which he vows to improve Internet options and performance while securing “Seattle’s position as a leader in technology once again.”

Murray’s post does not detail how exactly the City will achieve better connectivity and more competition, but it certainly seems like the Mayor is keen on coming up with new strategies to increase the number of Internet providers and improve speed at the same time.

Murray, who took office in January, said that he knows of people who don’t need roads to get to work, but rather high speed Internet.

A manhole cover in Seattle’s University District marks one of the access points for the Seattle'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. That partnership fell apart in December.
A manhole cover in Seattle’s University District marks one of the access points for the Seattle’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. That partnership fell apart in December.

“Seattle would never leave the construction of roads up to a private monopoly, nor should we allow the City’s internet access to be constructed and managed by a private monopoly,” he wrote. “It is incredibly clear to me and residents throughout the City of Seattle, that the City’s current high speed internet options are not dependable enough, are cost prohibitive for many, and have few (if any) competitive options.”

Last year, Seattle partnered with a private company called Gigabit Squared, which planned to build out a city-wide high-speed network that would take advantage of the city’s unused dark fiber. Gigabit had even announced the initial pricing structure for its Internet service, offering gigabit speeds for around the same price per month as what Comcast charges for much slower 50 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload.

But the company failed to raise adequate funding for the network and instead left an unpaid bill of $52,250 as Seattle returned to square one.

Murray actually published a blog post about the state of Internet in Seattle in February, in which he argued against Comcast’s $45 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable. He also answered questions from the public on Reddit during the same week.

comcasttruck
Seattle has a franchise agreement with Comcast that expires January 20, 2016.

“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 in the blog post. “One step will be to evaluate our City’s relationship with Comcast.”

Seattle has a franchise agreement with Comcast, the largest cable TV and high-speed Internet provider in town, that expires January 20, 2016. The city has already begun reviewing the relationship with Comcast and is now reaching 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.

[Related: Ed Murray: To infer that I’m some hack for Comcast doesn’t bear out the facts’]

While he avoids naming Comcast, Murray appears to reference the the company in today’s post:

Seattle needs a high speed internet infrastructure that meets the demands of our high tech industry and which allows our citizens to innovate without worrying about whether their connection will suddenly drop because their service provider has decided to throttle a service they depend on. We need an internet that does not censor communication, but fosters access to the content citizens depend on for information or civic engagement. We need a service provider that can do all of this with strict privacy controls so that free speech is encouraged, not stifled. In short, we need a high speed internet option that rivals any in the country.

As he told GeekWire back in February, Murray again noted today that he’s supportive of turning Internet into a public utility paid for by taxpayer money. It’s a strategy that former mayor Mike McGinn also talked about at the end of his term last year.

google-fiber“We may learn that the only way we can truly have the internet system this City needs, is by building it ourselves,” Murray wrote. “If we find that building our own municipal broadband is the best way forward for our citizens and for our City, then I will help lead the way.”

Murray also said today that “Seattle must be a national leader in identifying innovative ways to make high speed internet available and affordable to anyone who wants it.” He said the city is considering changing a few rules that make it difficult for Internet providers to expand their services.

In this post detailing why Google Fiber will never come to Seattle, former Seattle CTO Bill Schrier also referenced several of those laws that are restricting the ability for companies to provide better Internet service.

“The ‘Seattle Process’ and a balky bureaucracy at City Hall stand squarely in the way,” Schrier wrote.

See Murray’s full post below:

Finding a job, getting a competitive education, participating in our democracy, or even going to work for some, requires high speed internet access. I have seen people say online, “I don’t need a road to get to work, I need high speed internet.” Seattle would never leave the construction of roads up to a private monopoly, nor should we allow the City’s internet access to be constructed and managed by a private monopoly.

It is incredibly clear to me and  residents throughout the City of Seattle, that the City’s current high speed internet options are not dependable enough, are cost prohibitive for many, and have few (if any) competitive options.

As the internet becomes more and more important to everyday life, I believe Seattle must be a national leader in identifying innovative ways to make high speed internet available and affordable to anyone who wants it.

Seattle needs a high speed internet infrastructure that meets the demands of our high tech industry and which allows our citizens to innovate without worrying about whether their connection will suddenly drop because their service provider has decided to throttle a service they depend on. We need an internet that does not censor communication, but fosters access to the content citizens depend on for information or civic engagement. We need a service provider that can do all of this with strict privacy controls so that free speech is encouraged, not stifled. In short, we need a high speed internet option that rivals any in the country.

My office is actively engaged in finding a path forward. We certainly need some short term options to bring a functional internet to neighborhoods that have almost no connectivity, and we’re looking at ways to bring service to those neighborhoods as soon as possible. We are looking at a number of policy changes and their impacts that could foster greater competition right now, like testing small neighborhood pilot programs, building off existing fiber, or increasing WiFi access.

We are also considering changes to the SDOT “director’s rule” which makes it nearly impossible for internet providers to expand existing services without an unusually high super majority of support from neighbors. Few other cities in the country demand this kind of approval system, which is in part why service providers are investing in those cities and not here in Seattle. If we determine that changing the “director’s rule” helps achieve our goal of increasing internet speeds and making Seattle a more competitive market for internet providers, my office would then explore developing a more efficient process for community input around how and when utility cabinets are placed in our neighborhoods.

Another possible solution includes granting internet companies access to utility poles at little or no charge, so that building more infrastructure is not cost prohibitive. As Susan Crawford highlighted in her Special to the Seattle Times, we need to find ways to expand our dark fiber network so every building in the City is connected. We need to ensure that this network stays under the City’s control while exploring ways to rent it at a low cost to service providers. But if we make changes that lower the costs for businesses, these changes would need to come paired with significant improvements in services. I will not be satisfied if these changes simply bring marginal improvements for customers and higher profits for corporations.

While we increase competition by breaking down barriers and enhancing infrastructure, we also need to consider the option of building a city-wide municipal high speed internet system that meets the demands of this thriving technology hub. We may learn that the only way we can truly have the internet system this City needs, is by building it ourselves. If we find that building our own municipal broadband is the best way forward for our citizens and for our City, then I will help lead the way.

It is shocking to me that the United States invented the internet, but we have one of the biggest digital divides in the developed world, and are falling far behind other nations who have speeds much greater than ours. We need to find a path forward as quickly and efficiently as possible before we fall even further behind. Our economy depends on it. Our democracy depends on it.

I look forward to appointing a permanent Chief Technology Officer in the near future and working with him or her to secure Seattle’s position as a leader in technology once again.

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