A group of Internet users slow-walked through downtown Seattle on Wednesday, inching from a Comcast store to City Hall, in a protest against the duopoly of Comcast and Centurylink in this city (and to mock slow Internet service from the two telecom giants). They want the city to finally offer Internet service as a public utility—specifically, municipal gigabit broadband, as Chattanooga and other cities have successfully done.
"It's important for opening a bank account, or getting food stamps, or applying for a job," said Karen Toering. "We can't afford to leave that up to private companies. Public broadband is coming to Seattle. It may not come today or tomorrow, but smart cities are doing this."
The march was organized by comedian Brett Hamil and Upgrade Seattle:
Toward the same ends, Council Members Kshama Sawant and Rob Johnson are offering a $300,000 amendment to this city's budget to fund the development of a municipal broadband business plan and a full-time employee who would shepherd the plan through the political process—what you might call a municipal broadband czar.
The council members welcomed the marchers once they arrived at City Hall.
"This is a critical infrastructure investment," said Johnson. "Like most forward-thinking municipalities, there's a strong argument to be made that it's a utility like our other city utilities, like City Light... This is the right thing to continue to push."
Speaking of the proposed budget amendment, he continued: "The first couple of studies were about feasibility. But this is about, 'Now that we have the answers on cost, what would it take to roll this out?'"
The last study estimated that the city could build out a network for $440 million, using a model based on property taxes. But Mayor Ed Murray's administration spun the study as showing that municipal broadband is far too expensive to move forward with at all.
Johnson said he uses CenturyLink's service at home. "It's not great," he said. "It's not terrible."
Representatives of the mayor's office are going to meet with Johnson in the next week to "share" their point of view about the amendment. (A mayoral spokesperson did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment). Last year, Murray came out against an amendment from Sawant to create a broadband pilot project.
Comcast, for its part, sent this statement:
We understand the importance of our services in the daily lives of our customers and are working hard to create a best-in-class experience for them every day. In the last six years, we have increased speeds four times and have invested $1 billion in Washington to upgrade our reliability and capacity and to prepare for new gigabit services.