Advocates of a municipal broadband network in Seattle say the new $100 million consumer protection lawsuit against Comcast further proves that Internet should be treated like a public utility akin to electricity.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Monday announced the lawsuit against Comcast, which alleges that the cable giant engaged in “deceptive practices” related to a service protection plan that cost customers more than $73 million in subscription fees since January 2011.
“The bottom line is, I refuse to allow Comcast to put profits before people,” Ferguson said at a media conference on Monday.
After the media briefing, Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant tweeted that the lawsuit shows “further evidence we need #MunicipalBroadband.”
Sawant, a former software engineer who was elected to the Seattle City Council as a socialist candidate in January 2014, has been a long-time advocate for a municipal broadband network in the Emerald City.
“The purpose of a public internet utility is to provide high-speed, affordable and equitable internet coverage to all Seattle neighborhoods, residents, and businesses,” she wrote last year. “Municipal broadband can be a powerful lever against the digital divide that condemns people to the isolation and reduced economic opportunities experienced by many of our low-income, disabled, and people of color community members.”
She added: “We should expect Comcast and CenturyLink to go to every length to keep their unchallenged duopoly in Seattle.”
Devin Glaser, policy and political director of a grassroots group campaigning for a city-owned broadband network called Upgrade Seattle, told GeekWire that “Comcast’s Service Protection Plan was nothing more than $5 a month of 21st Century snake oil, and the Attorney General’s lawsuit is the kind of work we’d like to see from all of our elected officials.”
More from Glaser:
At the end of the day Ferguson’s move is a great offense but what subscribers really need is a good defense. Comcast tricked subscribers into paying $5 more a month through deceptive practices, but there’s no real mechanism in place preventing Comcast from simply charging higher prices in the first place. The majority of Comcast’s victims still have no alternative for reliable access to the internet, which is why Upgrade Seattle is still working to create a robust public option that doesn’t rely on a for-profit motive. Seattle residents are tired of sending their money to Philadelphia when it could be used to invest in a local network here in our community.
City officials have considered a municipal network, but a 7-month study released last year showed that the project would cost $480 million to $665 million — less than past projections, but still too much for the city to take on without outside financing or a major partnership, according to officials.
Then, this past November, the Seattle City Council voted against a $5 million municipal broadband pilot program.