Gigabit Cities

Seattle Warms Up for a Gig

The high-tech hotbed of Seattle has been a surprising laggard in the Gigabit Cities race to date, but recent activity suggests that the city's position could be about to change.

Seattle actually was both an early example of how municipal public/private broadband partnerships could take shape and an example of how such deals can go awry. The city's efforts to bring gigabit services to its residents fell by the wayside earlier this year when the now-defunct Gigabit Squared, which was to lease the city's dark fiber and connect underserved neighborhoods, welched on the deal it had struck. The city is now suing Gigabit Squared.

But Seattle, under new municipal leadership this year from Mayor Ed Murray, is trying to shake off that setback and continuing its gigabit quest unscathed, the city's chief technology officer, Michael Mattmiller, tells Light Reading.

"One of the things the mayor recognizes is that Seattle is a high-tech city, and for us to enable the next generation, Seattle needs to have high-speed broadband," Mattmiller says. The city has a three-pronged strategy to make sure that happens, he says.

First, Seattle is working to reduce regulatory barriers based on feedback it received from service providers, which complained that it is difficult to work with the city, he says. That includes changing and clarifying "inconsistent" rules about permission to use rights of way and working with the local electrical utility to streamline the process for getting permits for pole attachments.

Secondly, despite the Gigabit Squared experience, Seattle is exploring other public/private partnerships -- including those that would leverage the city's 550 miles of extant fiber. "We're still working with companies to figure out how we can be better partners," Mattmiller says. "We've offered that fiber up to private companies that may not have the capability to build their own network -- giving them the opportunity to lease some of ours."

Finally, the city has hired a consulting firm (Mattmiller declined to name which one) to update a study that it conducted in 2009 with projections and options for municipal broadband in 2014.

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The city's pending course of action could largely hinge on the costs and other considerations determined by that study, he says. That approach might not be the same as it once was. For example, the 2009 study assumed the city would become a triple-play provider, but private broadband builds and the developing over-the-top content market could mean that no longer makes sense, Mattmiller says.

Meanwhile, the city's leaders are encouraged by recent gigabit activity in Seattle, including CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) beginning a gigabit network upgrade in the city and CondoInternet , a subsidiary of Wave Broadband , expanding its fiber-to-the-home network to offer symmetrical gigabit pipes to all residents of Seattle's Eastlake neighborhood starting in December. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), the incumbent cable operator in the Seattle market, has yet to announce gigabit plans but does offer download speeds as high as 505 Mbit/s in other markets. (See Small ISP Expands Seattle Gigabit Network and More Cable Operators Go Gigabit.)

"It's great that those companies have recognized our city has a high-tech economy," Mattmiller says. "It's important that we provide this service -- that the city helps find the right way to get broadband Internet approaching that gigabit standard to all residents."

That is perhaps particularly important to a city like Seattle, which has a long track record of incubating everything from technology startups to, of course, behemoths like Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT). Putting Seattle on the Gigabit Cities map is important not only to extend and augment that reputation, but also to connect residents who are not yet served by high-speed connectivity, Mattmiller says.

"We know the city is going to grow by 100,000 people over the next 10 years, and that 75% of those people will be coming for a high-tech job," he says. "But another aspect of broadband is how it enables our public to be part of the digital economy. There's a perception that because we're a high-tech city, everyone can benefit from the advantages of technology. But some areas are still underserved, and we need to make it available to all populations and remove barriers."

— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, Light Reading

COMMENTS Add Comment
Phil_Britt 11/30/2014 | 5:03:48 PM
Unlikely Laggard Jason,

As you point out, it's confusing that the Seattle market wasn't an earlier one in the speed upgrade, considering the tech influence there, which is driving up the cost of homes, services, etc. As you noted, further growth is expected, but businesses and consumers alike will want to have the necessary commumnications infrastructure to meet their needs today and in the future.
MikeP688 11/27/2014 | 12:37:53 PM
Gratifying..just Gratifying.... Seattle seems to be a trailblazer in more ways than one.    The idea of municipal broadband seems to be gathering steam ever more--and I for one am ever so gratified by it.  I will share your article with one of the newly elected City Council Members in My City where I serve as a Commissioner for insights as we're witness to evolution ever more.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!


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