City Officials Reject Creating a Municipal Broadband Network to Compete with Comcast

But Activists Say They'll Keep Fighting for Public Utility–Run Broadband

Comments

1
Municipal broadband would be so cool but I like our unfinished hole in the waterfront better. Thanks Ed!
2
We could sell Bertha to pay for it.
3
Have you guys read the report? It's amazingly positive on the idea of setting up a public network. It's unclear why Murray and Mattmiller are already giving up.

On page 39:
"This analysis indicates that the City is in a favorable position because of its ability to focus on long-term goals in its pursuit of Fiber to the Premises. Fiber tends to be a capital-intensive endeavor with a somewhat slow return on investment (ROI). The City is at an advantage because of its bonding power and ability to prioritize goals other than only a bottom line (unlike most private companies). If the City is able to partner with Seattle City Light and build fiber in the power space as well as seek cooperation internally, it has a better chance at succeeding. The City’s weakness is that it has never taken on an endeavor like this."

We've never done a lot of things. That doesn't mean we shouldn't leverage our favorable position to start.
4
How's this? I'll vote for your $XXX,000,000 transportation packages when municipal broadband is ready.
5
If we can't build a public option, we need to exercise eminent domain and purchase the existing network. That is how we consolidated our transport network into our currect system of public transport, and we paid for much of the fiber optic infrastructure anyway.
6
@3 that sounds like how the Murray Administration "shot down" councilmember Sawant's inquiry into building more public housing- It'll be expensive unless the different departments work together. But we couldn't change the mission of our public utilities and offices, right? That'd be too revolutionary.
7
Comcast "competitive?" That's funny. Their business model is centered around a monopoly. And CenturyLink? I don't even get broadband from them, by some measures.
8
I love the idea there's some savings by "bundling" broadband with phone service. The phone service they're trying to sell you is a superfluous land line. That's called up-selling, not savings.
9
Municipal broadband for a city of techies? Too risky! Instead, lets spend four billion dollars to maybe- someday- hopefully get as many cars we can running through downtown. Here's another great article on this: http://www.geekwire.com/2015/seattle-off…
10
Why is it that something that works great for everyone else gets screwed up in Seattle.

I just went to with CenturyLink (12 Mpbs) and I'm as pleased as punch with it.

Sure, it's ADSL2+ but all that means is that the last hundred feet or so are twisted pair. Then it connects up to optical fiber.

Meaning...CenturyLink has already laid in the all the fiber into the neighborhoods.

All we're talking about is running a fiber from the DSST to to the home.

11
kinda bonkers that a town that sprouted microsoft and amazon has such shittasticular intarwebz.
12
Yes, let's just charge ahead with municipal broadband, never mind the obstacles and the risk of losing money. I remember an earlier city project championed by The Stranger, the Monorail. Readers enjoyed huge doses of worshipful coverage of that project, and I can see it coming again with municipal broadband. Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!
13
Just remember we could have had Google Fiber, had it not been for the invertebrates at city hall who let a few North End NIMBY's talk them out of it, not to mention grant Google a variance to mount their distribution boxes on city owned power poles.
14
Right... the report keeps talking about a $75 gigabit service being breakeven but doesn't do much to examine the public's 80% switch rate for the $55 100mbit service. I think someone needs to model tiered pricing, just like all the current ISPs do to maximize the money they get from set infrastructure costs.

The survey also asked about 100 mbit internet and 72% of those surveyed (with home internet now?) would be 5-very likely to switch at a $55 price point. Another 8% rated that as level 4 likely. If you go up to $65, 5-very likely and 4 still add up to 62%.
15
The report also keeps talking about using City Light pole-space to partner, ignoring any potential to tie into smart meter install/reading as a savings measure, something Goldy was writing about 1.5 yrs ago.
http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/screw…

Maybe bonds would be easier to sell if all city light smart meter reads were transmitted back to the head office over smart meters at $2/month as a pledged fee ? And those luddites who are afraid of RFs can pay a bit extra and $10/month for a special "hardwired, low-RF" meter that plugs into a city-supplied router.
16
The report also ignores costs savings from using the network for other municipal services like the multimillion dollar smart meters they want to roll out.
17
Let me get this straight... I could SAVE $25 on my monthly cable bill and gets speeds up to 50X faster? And it would create local jobs, city jobs, and take corporate interests out of the picture to lower lobbying of public officials?
SIGN ME UP!
18
@17, Done right it would cut jobs. Grant County PUD put in all firber-optic broadband everywhere. Whether people subscribed or not, it meant they got to lay off all the meter readers. Electric meters would be read remotely through the new fiber-optic line.

SPU and SCL do a credible job. A fiber-optic municipal broadband network makes sense as another municipal service and their is cost sharing and synergy between all three functions.
19
Initiative.
20
I cannot wait for the day that Ed Murray gets voted the fuck out of office.
21
As someone mentioned up above, Murray's got a transportation and god knows how many other levies to pass. And we thought Nickels was an autocrat.
22
@20, you forgot it was the other guy (McGinn) who was all in on that phantom company called Gigabit Square. All through the election campaign, he was their champion; right up to the point they went out of business and disappeared from Seattle. Without Ed Murray in office, we would still have all the old broadband barriers in place, and the legacy providers would still be sending their Seattle broadband investment $$ to places like Auburn. Thanks to the new regime in power, CenturyLink hung fiber on my block last month, and I'm delighted.
23
I've had the pushy CenturyLink door-to-door salesman assholes come to my house repeatedly, trying to sell me on installing gigabit service that they can't actually provide because they haven't run the fiber up my street yet. Fucking dickheads. Next time they show up I'm going to tell them if they can do a gigabit demo at my house I'll sign up. I'll climb up the goddamn pole with you so you can plug a modem in right there and prove it works.
24
I think the only hope we are going to have in Seattle is to pray to our corporate masters that AT&T, Verizon and Sprint push more unlimited data plans with somewhat reasonable pricing on their wireless networks. Maybe, just maybe that will force Comcast and CenturyLink/Qwest/US West/PacBell to make some feeble effort to improve service.
25
The fiber-to-premise idea is a neat one, but I'm pretty sure that state law precludes that. I've yet to see a muni or PUD that offers that in WA. The "last mile" is always through some 3rd party.

What I would like to see, if law permitted it, would be some sort of hybrid where the city provides the infrastructure, installaton, and billing/customer service functions and buys the rest through some wholesale purchase program (although I confess that I don't exactly know what "the rest" entails). That is a model that most municipal utilities are comfortable and familiar with.
26
@25. Grant County PUD does.
27
Georgeingeorgetown, I don't think they do....

http://www.grantpud.org/customer-service…
28
Can't wait till the next election to vote this fool out of office. Murray will be another one term mayor.
29
"The Bribes are strong with this one"
30
I'm a died-blue liberal who is chomping at the bit to pay more taxes for buses, bike lanes, affordable housing and social services. But I'm really failing to understand the problem that corresponds with this $500 million solution. I understand that an internet outage can really hurt a business and majorly inconvenience a random citizen, but I don't buy the idea that municipal fiberoptic lines would be any more reliable than private ones. I don't like dealing with Comcast customer service any more than the next person, but I've rarely had to in the ~10 years I've lived in Seattle. I pay $40 for a basic internet package right now - it's plenty fast to do 99 percent of the things I'd ever need to do online - I'm not a gamer or programmer. I'm all for low-income and underserved populations gaining internet access, but I fail to see how that couldn't be achieved with more computers and wifi being made available at our libraries and community centers for what's comparatively chump change. If this were filling a need that the private sector wasn't I might be more convinced, but this just seems like an exorbitantly expensive way to spite giant corporations. This is tax money that could be used for many more pressing issues.
31
Meanwhile, forty miles to the south, there's a successful municipal broadband network that's been in place for years:
http://www.clickcabletv.com/internet/

Chalk up yet another "victory" to that famous Seattle "can't do" attitude which is responsible for us being about forty years late on rail-based mass transit.

But look on the bright side: any time some billionaire wants goodies for the entire neighborhood he owns, or a new sports stadium, or someone wants to spend billions on a new freeway, the City of Seattle sits eagerly waiting to bark on command.
32
I'm not a big fan of municipal broadband. In general, the city should not be competing AGAINST existing services. If you think internet is a utility and within the purvue of government to guarantee reasonably priced aspect, then I think the first step is regulation, not building a competing network.
33
The interesting idea behind all of this is that we already have an internet exchange (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_Int…) right in Seattle that helps route connections across the planet. We could utilize that as a municipality to set up a tier 1 network that goes through Seattle (we also, supposedly, have one at UW). Considering the miles we have of dark fiber running through Seattle, it doesn't seem particularly difficult to set up our own tier 1 network (we also have companies based in Seattle that make that equipment), hook it up to our dark fiber, then build out connections.

Final note: We live in one of the world's tech hubs. Our residential internet service is just embarrassing and going to drive companies away.
34
@33-

Yes, because the past decade has most certainly been marked with a mass exodus of tech companies from Seattle. Perhaps intrepid reporter Ansel Herz could look into this angle - is the current status of broadband in Seattle a deterrent to companies (I'm talking big companies, not bar owners who are pissed off about occasional outages). Again, what is the problem that's being solved by this aside from potentially slightly cheaper monthly bills (if everything pencils out correctly) and the smug satisfaction of knowing that we spent half a billion dollars to tell Comcast to fuck off. Why not just have our local Banksy wannabe hang a "Fuck" above Comcast's Seattle office?
35
@27. I lived there when it went it. Ran it right to the house. The media, internet, and other content over that line is administered by a third part. Grant PUD picks up the meter read over the fiber-optic and then leases the rest of the capacity to media content, internet, phone and other providers. It is there line all the way to the house.
36
Defund Bertha, fund municipal gigabit. Problem solved.
37
Quick back of the envelope math: With $463 million (the low-end estimate of the cost of this project) we could:

- Provide 2,736,844 new Metro service hours (more than 10 times what we got with $45 million in Prop. 1).

- Complete our $240 million, 10 year bicycle master plan twice over, adding 908 miles of bike lanes, paths, sharrows and signed bike routes.

- Potentially cover 1/3 of the cost of light rail between Ballard and UW, or almost half of a Westside Transit Tunnel: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news…

- Almost triple the $229 million annual budget of the Seattle Housing Authority.

This is an unfathomable amount of money to consider spending on something that's, at worst, a minor annoyance for your average citizen.
38
Georgeingeorgetown, that's what I was saying in my original post. PUD's and Munis can run the backbone, but a third party has to do the actual retail part of it. It's classic middle-man, and they take their cut. That's one of the main differences between what is the status quo in WA and what Chattanooga does. Chattanooga Electric Power Board does the whole thing.
39
Mayor Jowly was bad, but at least he didn't scream at people. Murray is dead set against munibroadband and a muni bank, because his campaign war chest is fueled by corporate $$$ and he flips out if he can't control everything.

P.S. Don't even get me started on his heel-digging on real, actual community control of our renegade SPD.
40
As others mentioned, this was not exactly an objectively unfavorable report. There were other viable options in the report, as well as option left out, but no one of course at the city mentions them. The got the cover they needed after they gave the ISP incumbents what they wanted. It seems clear from their comments in the media, that the Mayor's office and high level staff is not committed to Muni BB as the only real competition to ISP incumbents in the City of Seattle. The risks here are actually overstated, and anyone who reads that report in it's entirely and has been paying close attention to this for longer than the current city administration should understand how the market is evolving to dramatically reduce that risk. Muni Broadband was only dangled as a weak threat to leverage the negotiations with the incumbents. This was empty rhetoric with was nothing serious to back it up. $180K for a study that they rewrote so they could cherry pick it to sound responsible. Unless the city council steps in in a big way now, and that includes any of the current candidates after the election, it's as good as dead, again in this city. Bow to your ISP oligopoly overloards...

What the city is also not telling you, is we lost a lower cost option to use the City's dark fiber because of McGinn's and the Councils approval to lease all the excess to private corporations for their exclusive use. We have a mayor who does not bat an eyelash at a 900 million plus transporation levy, a record high Parks levy with no accountablity, and who designates his department heads to take the flack for his own incompetence, pandering, and fear.

That no one can bring themsleves to devote up to 50 percent of bonding capacity and make serious efforts for state and federal economic development federal grants in lieu of direct taxation for someting that has a cost benefit far beyond that is classic neoliberalism. This is not really all about the money. This is course disguised as prudent caution and playing the role of the "serious" admistrator on this issue. They are all amaeturs. We have a bunch of feckless, dullard, uncreative servants of the incumbent ISP's masquarading as serious people. This is the Nickles administration all over again.

Speak up Mayor Murray, and prove me wrong.
41
@20 I would love to hear how "delighted" you are when you end up paying $170 instead of $75 for a 1 GB connection, with no options for a lower tier from that.
42
@34 You fail to realize that the tech companies you speak of have their own internet resources --They don't need or use Comcast. There are others who cater to them exclusively. This is about the rest of us and small business who actually employ more people in total. Economic development is not a monolitic endeavor.
43
@38 No, there are no such restrictions on the City of Seattle. They are not a PUD. PUD's cannot be ISP's because ALEC got restriction that through the State Legislature. But they can be wholesalers, which is what Grant County PUD is. They own the infrasturcture and maintain it, and lease out the services to private ISP's. It's something Seattle also COULD have done more easily if they had not decided to lease out all their dark fiber for private corporate use.
44
@30 - my sentiments exactly.

"It would be a really cool thing to have a municipal broadband system" is not a compelling reason to spend public funds on a project! If we're starting projects on the basis of being a really cool thing, I'd rather see the Seattle Center turned into a Wild Waves with beer, but that's just me.

There is also no indication that the City of Seattle will be any better at building and running this utility than Comcast is today. People are losing their minds over dumb customer service and a couple of outages, but these problems are endemic to any infrastructure service, regardless of ownership.

Finally, with our present public infrastructure track record, we have no basis upon which to assume this project will be on time, on budget, or high quality (e.g. Bertha).
45
The real problems with Comcast aren't the occasional outages or bad customer service. It's that to get anything close to high speed you have to pay quite a bit of money that leaves our local economy. If it was a municipal broadband built on fiber, the speeds for the same price would be many times faster and we could still have a cheaper option with faster speeds than comcast for less money. All the revenue generated from municipal broadband would also go back into our economy.
It's kind of like BECU vs Chase. BECU pays you interest and doesn't hit you with fees while Chase looks for every opportunity to ding you with a fee. BECU reinvests their earnings into the local company while all the money Chase makes goes to Jamie Dimon and to their investors.
The upfront cost, which is considerable, will be recouped and then we'll own it. The rates wouldn't have to increase to appease investors appetites for profits.
Look at the cities that own their power utilities vs those that depend on private companies. Guess who pays considerably more? Back when Enron was fucking with California with rolling blackouts and 1000% rate increases, I was doing some work in Burbank. No problem there since they owned their own power utility. When I went up north of there to some other sites we were being idled fairly often. That's a real economic impact beyond the initial investment.
46
Nemo, PUD's and Muni's are regarded as essential the same thing by the state. The state Utility Commission regulates the investor owned utilities, but leaves the governance of the PUD's and Muni's to local control. That's why Tacoma has the same set up with their click network that all the PUD's do.

I don't really see the point of a city forming an internet utility if they can't directly serve the customer. They would still have the middle man in there.
47
Does the average household really need 1 GBit speed? I have 25 MBPs from Comcast. And I download, stream, torrent, upload, seed. I stream Netflix and Amazon Prime films all the time. Plus, I have 2 PCs on at all times. And I've never had any lagging, freezing, dropped connections, or anything else. I torrent at 5-7 MBPs. Watch Youtube in 1080P all with instant streaming. On and On. So, pay for speed I don't need. Nor will never use, I'll pass.
48
Dear Seattle, we've had a municipal telecommunications network with both broadband Internet and cable TV since 1997. And once we get our management at Tacoma Public Utilities straightened out, we plan on reinvesting in leading edge speeds for our broadband Internet. So if some start-up techies would like a town not stuck in perpetual traffic with world-class museums, with a fantastic waterfront and unbeatable parks like Pt. Defiance, with a little golf course hosting a little event known as the US Open...oh yes, at rent costs and property prices that can still be described as reasonable, consider coming south. You'll like Tacoma. Best wishes, T-Town
49
The reporting in this article leaves a bit to be desired.

So Jeff MacIsaac loses $2K to an evening without internet. What's his solution? Cancel his internet!

Clearly he did not, because losing $2K in one evening is better than losing it every single night of the year. He switched to a different service. Why doesn't the article talk about how he found a better solution that Comcast? Or that for someone where $1,200 a year internet can cost them that amount in four hours should probably have a backup? (a cellular modem is $40 a month and makes a great backup).

What I see missing is the primary goal of a municipal internet. Is it more reliability? Uptime costs big dollars even if it's run at zero profit (99.99% percent uptime is only 45 minutes a year offline). Is it lower per month costs? Faster speeds? Nicer people on the phone when you call?

I know I sounds like a huge apologist, but given that there actually are a multitude of options for internet, I'm not 100% sure what people are hoping to get out of internet run by a municipality.
51
@46, No Catalina, The state does not treat Seattle and the PUD's as essentially the same for these purposes. I have been involved with these issues for a long time, and this is often brought up. The restrictions on PUD's regarding Muni BB do not apply to Seattle. Seattle is a self-regulating utility, with minimal responsibllities to the state PUC.

You might want to check the actual statute and contact the State Public Utility Commission yourself. There is a lot of misinformation out there, a lot of incorrect assumptions, and a lot of people who don't see the big picture and can can't see past the end of their nose, as demonstrated with some of the posts in this thread.
52
Nemo, you are correct. Neither PUD's nor Munis answer to the PUC. That is just for the investor owned utilities such as Avista, PSE and Pacific Power (and their counterparts in telecom, gas and water).

From an electrical governance standpoint, PUD's and Munis are quite similar (the main difference being PUD's answer to a local utility board, and the municipals answer to city councils). I did not know that PUD's are precluded from offering retail telecom, while state law appears to allow Munis to do so. It's just that nobody has done so.

Tacoma went the route of the PUD's in operating a wholesale system with third party operators, probably because they were afraid of lawsuits, or starting a whole new line of business.

(Fun fact: Tacoma Power used to be called Tacoma City Light until some administrator decided to waste a bunch of ratepayer money by "rebranding" it.)

So it would be up to one of the cities to develop their own internet utility. As I said in an earlier message, I would be in favor of a system where the city handles the billing, customer service and backbone/service connections, with a third party handling the technical stuff.
53
@brokenboy I agree with you completely.
Guess what? A house fire that melts the fiber optic trunk feeding an entire neighborhood will still cause an outage even if the city owns it instead of Comcast. The fact that the article mentions outages as a reason to want a city-owned system is ridiculous.