Wednesday, January 15, 2014

City of Seattle: "interested in the option of a municipal internet utility"

I thought and hoped that when Seattle Mayor Ed Murray shut down the failing effort of Gigabit Squared on January 7th that a more robust effort to get fiber to the premises would be made. 

I had hoped that they would make an effort to pursue a municipal option to better serve all of Seattle. 

I sent a brief note to Ed Murray with the link to a study completed in 2009. The study completed at the end of the Greg Nickels administrations, and at the beginning of the Mike McGinn administration.

Below is the brief reply I received today from Ed Murray's office.

Responding to your requst: 14-00002629

City of Seattle
Edward B. Murray

SR#: 14-00002629

Dear Michael Baker,


Thank you for the note. We've been reading the report, and are interested in the option of a municipal internet utility.


Please click here if you have further questions.

Bennett Barr

Office of the Mayor
600 Fouth Avenue 
PO Box 94749 
Seattle, Washington 98124-4749

Well, a brief request got a brief response. But, if memory serves, this would be a half-a-billion dollar effort.
They are looking at the study, good, they have an interest in making this a utility, even better.

Municipalities have done a delicate dance in order to get something going without ending up in court. Pursuing this as a utility is the way to go.

What the city could do is create / partner with a non-profit or create a municipal utility for the part that actually interfaces with the public as an ISP.

The duopoly of cable and telecom regularly win in court to stop such efforts citing that they provide comparable service. If they were capable of rolling this out on their own then we wouldn't still be having this discussion.

In order to get complete coverage for all of the city at about the same time, including the poorest of neighborhoods, a municipality has to put in its requirements that the entire city must be covered (that effort by private enterprise just failed); it has to demand Fiber To The Premises (FTTP). It must provide uniform rates so some neighborhoods would not get screwed because of the location of their home or business.

Gigabit Squared was, at best, going to serve a few of the better off neighborhoods, and at worst create a digital divide.

The combination of all 3 requirements is something that a commercial outfit has not and cannot commit to doing. Some parts may be something 1 provider could attempt. Former Mayor Mike McGinn went for that low hanging fruit and it failed to deliver where our fiber already existed, and it would have created a digital divide. 

This was known in 2009. We've lost 4 years. I sent the link to Ed Murray, Mayor of Seattle.

It is my, now slightly out of date, opinion that the city update the 2009 study and move forward with a municipal fiber-optic network.

Well, it looks like I'm not alone in thinking this way.

Go, Ed Murray!

One thing to look at would be to leverage existing assets and experience.

I know this sounds nuts, but, I would have the Seattle Public Library a partner in the project. They are the only information based governmental agency that fights to protect your right to keep your personal information personal; they have and manage an information network; they already have brick and mortar offices throughout the city. 
If not them then the city can invent a non-profit, a municipal entity, like that to be a facilitator.
Seattle City Light could be a partner. They have the poles, and a business interest in remote energy service to homes in Seattle.

So, two major entities, 1 of them is a non-profit tasked with delivering all three major city requirements, the other with a business need and the poles everywhere.

This has been a studied, rolling something like this out; the costs, the likely rates, and how much capital it would take (taxes, you know, the money we use to buy things that the private sector is unable to provide). 

Have a great day,
Mike Baker
Seattle, Wa