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Municipal broadband supporters holding signs at today's Seattle City Council vote. (Photo from the office of council member Kshama Sawant)
Municipal broadband supporters holding signs at today’s Seattle City Council vote. (Photo from the office of council member Kshama Sawant)

The Seattle City Council voted against a $5 million municipal broadband pilot program on Monday, delivering a major blow to groups that want to see the Internet treated like a public utility akin to electricity.

The project would have laid government-owned fiber in Seattle’s North Beacon Hill neighborhood and served as an experiment to test the feasibility of a much larger, and more expensive, city-wide buildout.

City of Seattle CTO Michael Mattmiller.
City of Seattle CTO Michael Mattmiller.

The mayor’s office has opposed the larger municipal broadband initiative, saying the $480 million to $665 million project simply isn’t possible without some type of outside funding. Seattle CTO Michael Mattmiller and Ben Noble, director of the Budget Office, wrote a letter to the council ahead of today’s vote discouraging members from supporting the pilot program.

Today’s vote essentially ends the possibility of the North Beacon Hill project for the time being. But Upgrade Seattle, a grassroots movement pushing for municipal broadband, says this will by no means end the larger debate.

“I don’t consider it a blow,” Upgrade Seattle organizer Sabrina Roach told GeekWire on Monday. “I think more people in Seattle now have awareness that municipal broadband is possible.”

Roach added that she was impressed by the public support the pilot project was able to stir up. She also said she’s happy with some of the moves the city government has made recently to try to promote Internet access throughout Seattle, even if it hasn’t supported this project.

Kshama Sawant
Kshama Sawant

“I’m optimistic about 2016,” Roach said. “Everyone here wants better Internet in Seattle. And we’ll all work together to get there.”

Council member Kshama Sawant, who brought the pilot project up for a vote and has been one of the loudest voices in support of a city-owned fiber network, offered the following statement after Monday’s vote: “There is overwhelming support for municipal broadband in Seattle. If the majority of the City Council was serving working people, as opposed to serving big corporations like Comcast, this pilot project would have passed. Once the campaign season ended, the corporate politicians on the Council turned their backs on us. I will continue working with Upgrade Seattle to build a powerful grassroots movement to win municipal broadband.”

GeekWire has reached out to the city of Seattle office for comment. We will update this post when we hear back.

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