Remember when local comedian Brett Hamil fucking nailed it in a video-blog bemoaning his sluggish internet service? He's back with a follow-up—still waiting, six months later, for Mayor Ed Murray to make up his mind about whether to pursue building a high-speed municipal broadband network in Seattle:
Well, Brett (and everyone who uses the internet), the wait's unlikely to end anytime soon. For now, the city's sending mixed signals.
For one, the city's chief technology officer, Murray appointee Michael Mattmiller, flew down to Chattanooga, Tennessee, last month—the city I've been braying about as a role model for how to roll out high-speed internet service—to attend an event called "Envisioning a Gigabit Future" that was largely about extolling the benefits of municipal broadband.
In an e-mail message, Mattmiller called the trip "an opportunity to interact with others exploring how best to bring gigabit internet to their cities, and the benefits cities are deriving from gig service."
"We also had an opportunity to spend time with the staff of Chattanooga’s municipal utility, EPB," he says, "to learn about their build-out of a Fiber-to-the-Premise network, the challenges they experienced, and their successes." He plans to stay in touch with EPB as he moves forward on broadband locally, he adds.
And in this interview, Mattmiller all but makes the argument for municipal broadband: Over the next 10 years, 75 percent of the city's new residents will be coming for a high-tech job, and furthermore, all areas of Seattle deserve equitable levels of internet access (something the current private duopoly has failed to offer).
By next April, Mattmiller expects that an updated study he's commissioning on municipal broadband will be complete. Between now and then, the task for municipal broadband advocates is to make progress assembling an energetic, broad-based coalition, including businesses that will benefit from the network. (A well-attended event at City Hall in October felt a bit like a launch party.)
Where does Seattle City Light figure in to all this? After all, Chattanooga's municipal broadband achievements are due in large part to the leadership of EPB, the city's public utility.
City Light spokesperson Scott Thomsen sounded none too pleased when I asked about the utility's stance on municipal broadband. "In times that we've looked at it in the past, there has not been a business case for the utility to get involved in that area," he said. "We're not in the internet delivery area... We deliver electricity and we provide street lighting."
But that's exactly the kind of narrow thinking that Chattanooga's public utility broke from. As Harold DePriest, EPB's head honcho, explained at last month's gigabit panel, "We originally set out to find a solution for building a better electric grid, but in the process we were able to create much more."