“We have a good starting point in terms of a mandate from the people of Seattle.”
When it comes to creating a city-owned and operated super-speed Internet utility in Seattle, there are still many unanswered questions. How does it get paid for? Is it a pure public utility or a public-private partnership? How does it reach apartment buildings? Will it utilize the city’s existing electrical and telecommunications infrastructure?
City Council member Kshama Sawant thinks rolling out a small pilot program, possibly in the Central District, could help answer many of those questions on the way to providing the service citywide. To do that, the District 3 candidate is considering inserting around $5 million into this year’s budget to fund the pilot program. She is also planning a town hall forum later in the year to help drum up more support.
“We have a good starting point in terms of a mandate from the people of Seattle,” Sawant said.
Executing the plan, she said, will come down to political will — an indirect rejection of how the Office of the Mayor interpreted a study on the initiative in June.
On Wednesday, members of the Upgrade Seattle campaign briefed Sawant’s energy committee on their efforts to build more public support for a pilot program. Using the recently completed study commissioned by the city, Upgrade Seattle presented different scenarios for funding and operating a municipal gigabit Internet service — a service that’s about 100 times faster than average U.S. residential speeds.
“We’re still very optimistic,” said Devin Glaser, a Capitol Hill representative on the Upgrade campaign.
To get the ball rolling, the report completed by Maryland-based Columbia Telecommunications recommended three potential pilot neighborhoods: the Central District, North Beacon Hill, and Upper Queen Anne (Upgrade is pushing for the CD or North Beacon Hill). The city would need an estimated $5 million to build the infrastructure in one of those areas and operate the service for 12-24 years, according to the study.
On a citywide scale, the report says it would cost Seattle between $480 to $665 million to build out the system that municipal broadband advocates believe would level the playing field with entrenched providers like Comcast and provide better service to the city. The city would also need to get 40% of all single-family homeowners signed up to a gigabit service that would cost around $75 a month.
Last year, CenturyLink announced plans to roll out gigabit Internet to Central District homes in 2015. A spokesperson for the company tells CHS the service is now availabe to around 65,000 homes throughout the city, including some on Capitol Hill.
Unlike Gigabit Squared’s failed plans to bring gigabit-to-the-block service to Seattle, CenturyLink is not leveraging any of the city’s “dark fiber” network for its buildout. CHS wrote about the Gigabit Squared plan last year.
Capitol Hill is not completely without fiber connectivity, although it remains fairly limited. CondoInternet has been offering gigabit capacity connections to apartment buildings and businesses since 2008, including several buildings on Capitol Hill.