How should Mayor Murray bring broadband alternative to Capitol Hill?

In late 2012, CHS got kinda excited about the prospects for a “public-private partnership” bringing a broadband service alternative to the City of Seattle. This week, it was revealed that the whimpers of recent months were true — the partnership was dead before it even got started. While there are some private alternatives making a go of bringing a fat pipe to Capitol Hill’s densely populated apartment blocks, it will now be up to a new mayor to bring Seattle up to speed with other cities putting their fiber capacity and related technology to work to provide affordable, fast Internet service.

Below is what Mayor Ed Murray has to say about the status of “a fiber-to-home network” in Seattle. CHS has plenty of tech-muscled geeks in the audience. Any ideas to help the mayor complete the fat pipe’s last mile on Capitol Hill?

An update on the status of a fiber-to-home network in Seattle
As some of you may have recently read, Mayor Murray sat down with the Puget Sound Business Journal and one of the topics discussed was the status of the City’s partnership with technology company Gigabit Squared. The deal, overseen by former Mayor Mike McGinn, would have allowed the company to lease parts of the city’s fiber optic network in order to bring high-speed internet to residents of Seattle. In November 2013 – prior to Mayor Murray taking office on January 1, 2014 – Gigabit Squared let the McGinn administration know they were having difficulties securing funding to bring the project to fruition. Due to that lack of private investment funding, Gigabit Squared, which has not yet delivered a broadband system in any city during their five years in business, could not continue their work. In addition, Gigabit Squared still owes the City of Seattle $52,250 for services provided to them by the City, including engineering fiber routes, conducting preliminary assessments for their wireless infrastructure, and permit planning. The City is now at a crossroads and a new fiber strategy needs to be, and will be, explored. In 2004, a citizen’s task force recommended the city pursue fiber instead of citywide Wi-Fi and, since that time, two administrations have explored ways to build fiber broadband. While this initiative has encountered a speed bump along the way, please be assured that access to a fiber-to-the-home network in Seattle is not “dead” as has been reported over the last few days. The Mayor is committed to improving the infrastructure of this city and that includes improving the connectivity of its residents. The Mayor is also deeply committed to the affordability of this city and will ask that any other options pursued do not further contribute to the economic divide in Seattle. Please stay tuned for more information on this issue in the coming weeks.

4 thoughts on “How should Mayor Murray bring broadband alternative to Capitol Hill?

  1. First, I would point the mayor to some of the success stories in the municipally-owned ISP service space to start: http://muninetworks.org/content/successes-and-failures

    Second, and most important, I’d ask Mayor Murray and his team to read this mail that I sent to the McGinn administration in June 2012 to address concerns about the proposed broadband ordnance (now failed) he was working on. It is long, but there are five key points which, if addressed this time around, will help bolster Seattle’s chances of a successful roll-out.

    AV

    [mail begin]

    After reviewing the proposed dark fiber leasing ordinance, I do have a few concerns I’d like for the Mayor and City Council members to consider. As I mentioned earlier, I was the Seattle resident who was cut off from Comcast’s services for the supposed sin of “overuse”:

    http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/07/seattle-comcast

    Since then, thanks to my Intel/Microsoft/Amazon technology and PR background, I’ve been able to drive quite a bit of press on the subject, with over 50 nationwide articles and video segments to date.

    Having been as adversely affected by Seattle’s poor state of broadband competition as I was, I was pleased to hear about this movement to lease the city’s dark fiber. And I want to stress that I really appreciate the fact that the city is pushing on this… my comments here are with an eye to helping that process as much as possible. Still, that said, I am concerned that there are some ambiguities, questions, and and potential loopholes in the current legislation, and I wanted to share those concerns with you.

    I have five concerns about the current legislation:

    1. The principles and priorities behind this legislation are unclear.

    Specifically, what is the overriding principle of this legislation? Is it to enable a competitive fiber-based broadband market to enable choice for Seattle residents and businesses? Or is it to monetize existing City of Seattle fiber assets?

    The answer might be “both” — but if so, then it’s important to be very clear which of those options is the priority when conflict arises. For example, it’s quite possible that the best way to drive broadband competition in our region would be by leasing our dark fiber at “cost plus” — and make it easy for companies such as Sonic.net (http://gigaom.com/broadband/sonic-net-goes-on-the-isp-offensive/) to come in and build out competitive options. However, that goal would conflict with a potential goal of monetizing Seattle’s fiber. Short form, it would be very helpful to have that discussion now and be crisp on the principles and priorities of this initiative and detail that in the legislation. Personally, I would recommend taking a longterm view, and pricing bandwidth as low as possible to drive the greatest possible opportunity for vetted ISPs, and hence competition through choice.

    2. The legislation does not explain how it guarantees competition among multiple bidders on the dark fiber.

    Nor do there appear to be any checkpoints or “clawback” mechanisms which would allow the city to reclaim bandwidth if it wasn’t used and make it available to other competitors. To put it another way, what is to keep a Comcast or Centurylink from being a high bidder (assuming the overriding priority is monetization, and not broadband enablement) and locking up most or all of the available bandwidth from other competitors? In some ways, this comes back to point #1 above — are we focused first on enabling competition and choice, or on the dollars?

    3. The legislation does not appear to have a method to track available “dark” bandwidth, report on who is using it, and over what timeframe.

    In other words, there does not appear to be any way for a Seattle resident to see how much excess capacity we have, who is leasing it, and how it is actually being used. Having an annual report detailing this information would seem to be a good way to communicate progress to the community, as well as give a regular checkpoint as to whether or not the city’s needs are being addressed by this legislation. I think this is critical, considering the poor performance of our previous broadband initiatives.

    4. The legislation has no mention of net neutrality requirements, or a requirement that data use not be “capped” or cut off.

    ISPs like to point out that building a network is expensive, and attempt to justify high prices by pointing to the original cost of building out such a network. While there is truth there, it’s important to note that the City of Seattle (and more importantly, its tax payers) have already incurred a very significant portion of the cost of building a citywide fiber network. As such, requiring that any ISPs who use city fiber resources confirm to certain net neutrality rules or requirements such as not applying data caps is reasonable and protects the consumer.

    This is a very important point in my opinion. Why should Seattle residents effectively fund restricted network functionality, especially when we live in a world where the existing incumbents are favoring their own traffic (Comcast’s Xbox 360 Infinity application: http://gigaom.com/cloud/level-3-concurs-comcast-appears-to-be-prioritizing-traffic/) or have arbitrary data caps (http://gigaom.com/broadband/comcast-capitulates-on-cap-but-dodges-the-net-neutrality-issue/)?

    For guidance on net neutrality rules, I would suggest using the FCC’s net neutrality rules for fixed broadband providers as a starting point. To quote the FCC:

    “First, transparency: fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and commercial terms of their broadband services. Second, no blocking: fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services. Third, no unreasonable discrimination: fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.”

    As to Usage-Based Pricing (UBP), or “Data Capping” — simply put, don’t allow it if a provider is using city-owned fiber. The cost of transmitting a gigabyte of data is less than a penny today, and dropping in cost roughly 22% a year. Allowing UBP or a data cap of any sort is simply a way for an ISP to have a hidden markup of about the same percentage, compounded, year after year — on assets Seattle tax payers have already paid for. I am attempting to keep this feedback short, so if additional data as to why UBP/data caps are inappropriate is needed, please let me know.

    5. Finally, the legislation does not have any way of measuring success or failure — and next steps.

    Seattle needs robust broadband, and past initiatives have not delivered. It’s nice to have the mayor mention the possibility of having a city-run network if needed — but it’s time to get specific. How do we measure success of this initiative, and in what time period? How do we make a commitment that lasts beyond the current administration and city council? I mean no disrespect, but it’s likely some of the people now reading this today will not be in the same role a few years from now. How does this initiative maintain staying power, and what is the trigger to shift direction and move toward building a citywide network?

    To the measurement point, I’d suggest at a minimum a three-year window to measure success, with 70%+ of Seattle residents having at least four choices of wireline >40 Mb service to the home. Note that this definition includes existing incumbents such as Comcast and Centurylink using cable or DSL, so it’s not a very high bar. Ideally, I’d challenge the City of Seattle to target delivering 100 Mb+ service via fiber to 70%+ of Seattle resident homes, with at least three providers competing to deliver bandwidth and services over that fiber.

    If some of the above doesn’t belong in the current ordinance for reasons I don’t understand (which is quite possible as I am unfamiliar with how these things unfold), I’d appreciate knowing where they would fit, and when the Mayor’s office, the Technology Committee, and the City Council would discuss these points with the public. I believe these are important issues, and know that other Seattle residents also support the points above. If for some reason the City of Seattle disagrees, I and other city residents would like to understand why, and have a chance to discuss in whatever the most appropriate setting might be.

    [end email]

  2. My thought is let’s cut out the private partnership and make this a city utility like water and sewage or roads. I know it would cost a lot. But what an investment in our city.

    • I’d definitely agree, especially considering the most recent news about the weakening of Net Neutrality rules: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/01/net-neutrality-is-half-dead-court-strikes-down-fccs-anti-blocking-rules/

      Per my suggestions above, I believe this makes the Mayor and the City stepping up to own its broadband destiny all the more important — and requiring that any service offered by the city enforces Net Neutrality rules. Cut and paste from above:

      “ISPs like to point out that building a network is expensive, and attempt to justify high prices by pointing to the original cost of building out such a network. While there is truth there, it’s important to note that the City of Seattle (and more importantly, its tax payers) have already incurred a very significant portion of the cost of building a citywide fiber network. As such, requiring that any ISPs who use city fiber resources confirm to certain net neutrality rules or requirements such as not applying data caps is reasonable and protects the consumer.”

  3. Although the Gigabit Squared deal is done, just as many of the early broadband ” on and off again” initiatives for Seattle, I am surprised this FTTH & B broadband network wasn’t mentioned or included in the Seattle Times Editorial for Priorities After Inauguration Day (1/7). Ah, the viewing audience will be enormous for Sunday’s Seahawks playoff game in a stadium with a name becoming familiar in the local and statewide competitive environment for information, media and connectivity…CenturyLink Field. CenturyLink’s advertising arm will surely find it appealing as the blimp circles with their name proudly displayed above the roaring crowd won’t they? A recent flyer insert in the paper reads; ” Home Field. Home Team. Home Internet. Richard Sherman of the Hawks is seated looking at a laptop smiling since he must be well connected. Mayor Ed Murray should also embrace this whole weekend Seahawks scene to rekindle CHS’s and the entire city’s “public-private partnership in broadband. A cable franchise agreement with Comcast still in the works after years in King County, CenturyLink’s lack of bringing their TV service Prism to the city where an NFL team plays in their own stadium and Comcast’s possible positive relationship with the mayor are all indicators that a new private-public partnership can be emphasized in 2014.

Add Comment Register

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>