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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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