Sawant considers Central District for city-owned gigabit Internet pilot program

48% of Seattle Internet subscribers said they would switch to municipal gigabit Internet at $75/month, according to a recently released study.

48% of Seattle Internet subscribers said they would switch to municipal gigabit Internet at $75/month, according to a recently released study.

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“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.

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35 thoughts on “Sawant considers Central District for city-owned gigabit Internet pilot program

  1. How about we get rid of the homeless shelters we call libraries. and a couple of parks, that should be enough to supply everyone in Seattle with FREE internet. All the other people at the library seem to go there to use the computer anyway so why not re-allocate these funds and a few like it for provide FREE internet for everyone!

    Internet has become an essential part of life, and essential component in so many things. An email address has become more important than a phone number or a physical address. I am sure the voters would be happy to move som money away from other projects to provide FREE internet for the public!

    http://techcrunch.com/2009/10/14/applause-for-finland-first-country-to-make-broadband-access-a-legal-right/

    http://www.businessinsider.com/mark-zuckerberg-internetorg-2014-2

    • I didn’t realize the people using the internet in libraries had computers and phones in their houses (and shopping carts) but only lacked connectivity.

      The more you know!

      City library funding is around $60 million/year, so I’m pretty sure you’re going to need more funding. Of course internet as utility has no guarantee of being free any more than water, sewer, or electricity access.

      (Of course your post is probably just snark. Or not. Who can tell any more?)

    • I need to read the fully report to figure out why it has to cost $75 a month, I guess. I was under the impression that bandwidth was pretty cheap.

    • To some, $75 a mo. is no great deal and my disdain for Sawant and her supporters grows with every crop of posters planted.
      Currently showing on BOTH sides of each utility pole on East Madison from 23rd or so West.
      It’ s gross and insulting.

    • Gee, thanks for asking,I happen to agree with elements of both their platforms.
      To continually have to resort to that level of excess is still, to me, gross and insulting.

    • Although I hate the mess that our liberal postering regulations have created, I do think that it’s OK to use the poles for political speech….as long as they are removed in 30 days, which of course will not happen as no one seems to respect the regulations, even city office-holders like Sawant.

    • The $75/month price point is the point at which the network could be self-sustaining (with no subsidy from the city beyond payments from city subscribers). And at $75/month, the city would need to acquire approximately 43% of residents to subscribe. This is a huge number – a number that no other municipal network has been able to reach. Comcast and CenturyLink will most likely reduce their subscriber “fees” enough ($5 less, $10 less or ???) to attract those who might otherwise go with the city’s municipal network. This is a risk to the city. If the network cannot be self-sustaining, the city must makeup any difference from the city’s general operating fund. And the fewer subscribers, the more the city must take from the general fund.

  2. It’s hard to get excited for municipally owned broadband. It sounds great right now, but as soon as it’s launched Comcast will magically discover that they could offer a 2gbps service for $3 cheaper all along.

  3. The $75/month price point is the point at which the network could be self-sustaining (with no subsidy from the city beyond payments from city subscribers). And at $75/month, the city would need to acquire approximately 43% of residents to subscribe. This is a huge number – a number that no other municipal network has been able to reach. Comcast and CenturyLink will most likely reduce their subscriber “fees” enough ($5 less, $10 less or ???) to attract those who might otherwise go with the city’s municipal network. This is a risk to the city. If the network cannot be self-sustaining, the city must makeup any difference from the city’s general operating fund. And the fewer subscribers, the more the city must take from the general fund.

    I think $75 is a great price for the perfomance considering I’m stuck with Comcast at $69.99/month for about 25mbps down. They could easily increase the download speed and might even do so to keep me from jumping ship if the city deployed a municipal network. But Comcast has such crap customer service that I still might choose to pay just a bit more for a *much* faster network with (I would hope) better customer service!

    With a small pilot program talked about in this article, I expect Comcast and CenturyLink will discount prices (in the areas) where a municipal network is deployed. So initially I’d expect Comcast/CenturyLink to reduce fees to the Central District if this is indeed where a pilot program is deployed. And if the pilot program were to expand, so would Comcast’s and CenturyLink’s discounted fees. This is the risk the city cited in their reasoning to not move forward with a municipal network.

    I hope that we can get a municipal network off the ground with even a pilot program deployment. I think the city’s incumbent providers need the competition if we are ever to see faster speeds for less money!

    • Well one thing for certain, there would be no point in Comcast discounting its rates in the CD since the CD isn’t served by Comcast. Wave on the other hand I’m sure would consider it but I’m gonna guess they don’t have the deep pockets to sell at a loss to compete with a municipal network.

    • It wouldn’t necessarily be selling at a loss, since much of the monthly cost is recouping the cost of the initial build-up.

    • But you see, it’s not really about actually BUILDING the network…it’s all about the pandering. It all comes from the same Sawant playbook– You push the buttons that resonate with hipsters. Have you heard any great groundswell of demand from the CD for $75/mo gigabit internet? I live in part of the CD, and I sure haven’t.

      BTW…I, too, tired of paying top $$ to Comcast for mediocre speed (though I had no problem with their service, interestingly). I gave them a shot at negotiating and retaining me, but they totally blew it. So I actually moved to CenturyLink DSL and saved almost $20/mo for faster speeds. If it works for you, you might consider it. No complaints here.

    • Thanks for asking. Gave it thought and am still thinking about how to deal with disclosures. You’ll note we’re pretty much one of the only outlets other than the West Seattle Blog that includes statements in our reporting. With Sawant — and Burgess, I should add — it’s complicated by a few factors. For one, frequency — we write about both of the candidates all the time. Another factor is a technicality — the campaigns are the actual advertisers. So do we disclose about the person or only when we’re covering the specific campaign. And I’m pretty sure you’re smart enough to know that sorting out the difference between the two isn’t really simple, either. Additionally, we’re seeing more and more relevant, extremely local sponsors in ad networks that we participate in like Google Adsense. We don’t know which advertisers those networks include so impossible to disclose about that.

      So, to summarize, we’re kicking around how best to handle. I’m aware of current double standard when it comes to how we try to handle restaurant and bar advertisers. But what do we do about the occasional SDOT, Sound Transit, DPD, WSDOT campaigns? Let me know what you think.

    • I understand the complexity. I guess I view government agency advertising as more of a PSA (the current ‘Thanks Seattle Voters’ ad from the city), versus highly opinionated political ads that are meant to convince voters in an impending election (‘Tax the Rich!’).

      That said, if the Capitol Hill Blog does want to take a stance as an organization for one candidate or another, that should also be transparent.

    • That said, if the Capitol Hill Blog does want to take a stance as an organization for one candidate or another, that should also be transparent.

      We don’t

  4. Your overly quick reference to the lone Banks telephone pole poster in response to the reference to Sawant’s prolific telephone pole posters would seem to indicate otherwise. I have no real objection to those pole signs but I think you showed your cards with that one.

    btW, i have lost four Banks yard signs over the last few weeks. Kind of depressing when you cant express a simple political opinion of support on your own property without someone continually trying to muzzle you.

    • Glenn, it is interesting that you mention your Banks signs disappearing. Something that I thought was rather suspicious happened in my neighborhood last Sunday. A Sawant campaigner came to my door. I politely told him that we were not supporters and reminded him that I shared that same information with the Sawant campaigner who came to my door just two weeks prior. I politely asked him not to come back (if they do come a third time, I will have some difficultly being nice) . About an hour later, I was out in the neighborhood picking up litter and I noticed that one of the houses up the street from me had a political yard sign metal frame stuck in their parking strip but no sign was attached. When I went further up the street to pick up the trash at the bus shelter, I saw the Banks sign lying on the ground by the garbage can. I couldn’t help by think that the Sawant volunteer did it while he was out making the rounds.

    • I am curious where you were walking when you observed this. It describes my situation very well. What street were you walking on?

  5. The most important result here is that 80% of customers would switch to 100mb service. We dont’ need 1gb service, its just silly. The issue is centurylink charges increasingly high prices for the same service due to the lack of competition – and makes a ton of money. Internet should be a utility, and charged as so.

    I would love 100mb service for $55/mo

  6. I think a lot of people miss the point on fiber optic to the home – It’s infrastructure. It’s like roads or sewers or electricity.

    Gigabit internet may seem excessive for web browsing or youtube videos, but if you consider the amount of bandwidth it takes to stream a virtual business meeting for someone who has chosen to work from home rather than clog our roads and freeways at rush hour – and then you consider that person’s spouse sitting next to them who has made the same choice, and the college student down in the basement who is in a virtual lecture and the kids on summer vacation who are playing minecraft together virtually, and all of our smartphones and devices that are constantly checking up on our social media feeds through wifi, then gigabit doesn’t seem so crazy.

    Working effectively from home means not sitting in traffic. A tiny fraction of the money that goes to pay for tunnels and freeways and “Mercer Messes” could be spent on something that will really benefit us in the future.

    I guess one might ask why Microsoft and Amazon aren’t behind this? Fewer buildings to build, fewer grey cubes to assemble.

    Of course thinking this way isn’t Seattle’s style, is it?

  7. “a virtual business meeting for someone who has chosen to work from home rather than clog our roads and freeways at rush hour”

    Yes, this will do wonders for white gentrifiers in the CD. Must build. Yeah socialism for techies and urbanists!

    • You should check yourself: Upgrade Seattle is not composed of techie urbanists.

      The digital divide is a real thing with disparate impacts on poor communities and communities of color.

    • And low income CD residents are going to use their ultra high speed government internet to do what exactly? Upload some photos to a Myspace page?

    • Send email, pay rent/utilities/bills, read the news, take community surveys, see when the bus is coming, reserve holds at the library, find information about local businesses, check the weather…I’m confused as to why you think low income residents don’t want faster or cheaper Internet. You seem really out of touch.

    • I agree – many of the comments seem out of touch with today’s usage of the Internet. Most want it, but it may be priced out of reach. My mother-in-law, who is on a very fixed income, must pay Comcast $40/month for 3Mbps (down) with 768Kbps (up). Otherwise, she must pay $66.95/month for Comcast’s 25Mbps tier. Both are high costs, but the $40/month is more affordable. However, the speed is WAY TO LOW. And they do NOT advertise that slower tier because they would rather gouge out $66.95/month from someone who cannot easily pay for it.

    • Yes, the digital divide is real. Those poor communities and communities of color are heavily comprised of people whose job skills don’t at all track with needing 100Mb internet service so they can “choose to work from home”. These are people who have trouble getting ANY job that pays decently, let alone some techie home-based job that demands high-speed internet. Their needs are a bit more down to earth than fiber-to-the-home and the latest 802.11ac router connected to 100mb internet.