Tag: "seattle"

Posted November 6, 2013 by christopher

Starting with the good news, voters in Colorado overwhelmingly supported municipal network intiatives. Longmont voted 2:1 in favor of bonding to fast track network expansion. We have covered this issue in great depth recently. Read all of our coverage of Longmont here.

The local paper covered the referendum results in this story:

2B's passage means approval for the city to issue $45.3 million in bonds to build out the city's 17-mile fiber optic loop within three years.

Longmont Power & Communications has estimated that the payback time on the bond will be 11 years. If revenues from commercial and residential customers fall short, LPC's electric service revenues will be used to make up the shortfall, LPC staffers have told the Longmont City Council.

South in Centennial, voters supported restoring local authority to build a network by a 3:1 margin. We most recently wrote about this referendum here.

In Seattle, the mayor that campaigned on a citywide fiber network and backed off it but created a partnership with Gigabit Squared to bring gigabit fiber to 12 neighborhoods lost in his bid for reelection to the candidate that that was strongly supported with Comcast donations. However, the election does not appear to have turned on broadband issues:

McGinn’s fate was forecast two years ago, when voters slapped back his efforts to obstruct the Highway 99 tunnel project, opting to move ahead with the long-debated project. McGinn’s anti-tunnel agitating was viewed as a reversal from his 2009 election-eve pledge not to stand in the project’s way.

We continue to be disappointed in the lack of serious discussion in many races about how local governments can make meaningful improvements in Internet access for residents and businesses. We most recently...

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Posted November 5, 2013 by christopher

Seattle will choose its new mayor today in a race that was thrust into an unexpected media spotlight following the Washington Post story on Comcast contributions to the challenger. We covered it early from the perspective of how Comcast wants to send a message to other mayors that may challenge its effective monopoly.

However, it bears noting that mayoral candidate Murray was mostly caught in the crossfire. He had been silent on broadband issues (which should raise some eyebrows given its importance to economic development, education, and quality of life) but after the WaPo story, he proclaimed that he supported the gigabit challenge to Comcast.

Just because Comcast wanted to buy the challenger doesn't necessarily mean that Murray was for sale or would do Comcast's bidding in office. But we are now learning that Comcast has bought 12 meals for Murray as part of their lobbying effort. If nothing else, these stories should be a good reminder of who calls the shots in American politics. As long as we encourage firms to spend big money on elections, the biggest corporations will continue to have far more influence over our government than we do.

Back to Seattle - lest one think this is a clear cut case of pro-competition Mayor McGinn vs. Comcast puppet Murray, a prominent tech blogger in Seattle sets us straight regarding the nuance and complications of such a simple analysis. Brier Dudley starts be reminding us that most people are voting on issues aside from Internet access and continues with:

McGinn simultaneously abandoned years of city planning to build a citywide broadband network and bring fast, affordable service to everyone.

Instead, McGinn opted to part out the city’s fiber-optic network assets, offering pieces here and there to telecom companies. That approach basically...

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Posted November 1, 2013 by christopher

In a reminder of the power embodied in massive corporations like Comcast, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is facing a challenger buoyed with sizeable contributions from the nation's largest cable and Internet company.

Why is Comcast so interested in defeating Seattle's mayor? Payback and a warning to others. Lest any other big city mayors think it would be wise to help create competition to Comcast's effective monopoly, know that Comcast will finance your opposition.

We have covered Seattle's various attempts at improving Internet access though we have admittedly not written much on its public-private partnership with Gigabit Squared. Gigabit Squared is a new firm that is starting to work with cities that have fiber assets to deliver services to residents and businesses.

The plan in Seattle is to create a large pilot project in at least 12 neighborhoods offering Internet service at speeds far faster than Comcast but at a lower price. Gigabit Squared is using city owned fiber to build its backbone network and working with the City to expand that network.

However, little has happened in the past 10 months since it was announced except some signs that Gigabit Squared was still trying to raise the necessary capital. We understand that some will start to get services early in 2014.

In the meantime, Comcast has donated heavily to Mayor McGinn's rival Ed Murray at a time when many expected the Mayor to already have a challenging race. From the Washington Post story:

Comcast's donations to political action committees (PACs) suggest Comcast has poured dramatically more resources into defeating McGinn. The Broadband Communications Association of Washington PAC, which received 94 percent of its 2013 contributions from Comcast, donated $5,000 to the group People for Ed Murray less than a month after Gigabit Squared's pricing announcement. That was the PAC's largest single donation. Unsurprisingly, People for Ed Murray has made significant expenditures supporting...

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Posted March 21, 2013 by lgonzalez

Mount Vernon, Washington, started building their own fiber optic network in 1995 and over the past 18 years have continued to add incrementally. While the network started as a way to connect a few municipal facilities, it has since expanded to nearby Burlington and the Port of Skagit. The network now serves government, schools, hospitals and clinics, and a broad range of businesses in the area.

We spoke with community leaders from Mount Vernon for our 38th episode of the Broadband Bits podcast. Mount Vernon owns the network and operates it out of the Information Systems office.

The network required no borrowing or bonding because initial funding came from a state Community and Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) grant. Since then, Mount Vernon has used revenue from the network and creative cost sharing with partners to expand throughout the city. When expanding into Burlington and the Port of Skagit in 2008, city leaders received a county sales tax grant to fund deployment.

The Mount Vernon School District became a partner early in the evolution of the network. According to Kim Kleppe, Information Services Director, K-12 schools do not pay a monthly fee to receive up to 1 gig of capacity for their 10 facilities. He estimates the current costs of a dark fiber connection for one facility at $700 per month. Total savings are astronomical, allowing the schools to dedicate significant dollars toward other expenses.

Mount Vernon city government saves over $100,000 per year and nearby Burlington saves over $52,000. The network has never been in debt and maintains a reserve.

Mount Vernon's network is an open access model on which ISPs serve customers via the city's infrastructure. Subscribers pay a one time fee to the city to be connected. Onging revenue comes from the ISPs, who pay to the city a percentage of what they collect in customer connectivity fees. Currently, eight different providers offer services via the Mount Vernon network, providing ample competition.

Like other communities we see that choose the open access model, Mount Vernon...

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Posted June 30, 2012 by christopher

We have followed Seattle's on-again, off-again consideration of a community broadband network for years and have occasionally noted the successful cable network in nearby Tacoma.

Seattle Met's Matthew Halverson has penned a short, impressive article explaining the trials and tribulations of Tacoma while also exploring why Seattle's Mayor has abandoned his goal of a broadband public option.

Before the massive cable consolidation that has left us with a handful of monopolists, we had a larger number of smaller monopolists that abused their market power to limit competition. One of the worst was TCI, which refused to upgrade its awful services in Tacoma, which pushed Tacoma to build its own network. TCI suddenly decided it did care about Tacoma.

TCI wouldn’t go down easily, of course. For the next year, as the City built out its system, the cable giant took advantage of the utility’s biggest weakness: All of its plans, from the kind of equipment it would buy to its construction schedule, were public information. So when Tacoma Power put in an order with its supplier for, say, coaxial cable, it found that TCI had already bought every foot of it. “But we started in one area of town and luckily we were able to get just enough material,” says Pat Bacon, Click’s technical operations manager. “We just inched our way through it and, before you knew it, we were a presence.” By July 1998, Click had its first cable subscriber, and the first broadband Internet user signed on in December 1999.

A substantial portion of the article is devoted to the dynamics around open access between the utility and independent providers -- an important read for anyone considering the open access approach.

Halverson did his homework on this article and I think he got it mostly right. I think the FiOS-wired suburbs do present a larger threat to Seattle than suggested, but it certainly does not compare to the approaching-existential crisis faced by Tacoma fifteen years ago.

I wish I could disagree with his conclusion that Seattle is unlikely to get a community fiber network but unless the community rises up to demand it, elected officials are unlikely to see any benefit to making such a long term...

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Posted May 10, 2012 by lgonzalez

Christopher Mitchell recently spoke with Marcie Sillman on Seattle public radio KUOW's Weekday. Christopher and Marcie talked on May 8, 2012 about recent developments in local and national broadband, including the April 29th end to Seattle's free Wi-Fi network. Christopher and Marcie also discussed challenges and strategies involved in building a community network.

The interview is just about 13 minutes.

Posted May 8, 2012 by lgonzalez

In 2005, Seattle started offering free Wi-Fi to several neighborhoods, hoping to increase usage among businesses, residents, and passers-by. While the effort was hailed by some, and criticized by others, it was an experiment in community broadband. An experiment that ended on April 29th.

The City still considered the free Wi-Fi a pilot project, even though it had been in operation since 2005. Areas served were the University District and Columbia City neighborhoods, and four downtown parks. There will still be free Wi-Fi in public libraries and in a few hotspots around town as well as in some city facilities, including City Hall and the Seattle Center.

The theory was that municipal WiFi was a workable and cheaper way to get more people online. But Wi-Fi is only cheaper in the short run -- something fiber critics tend to ignore. As Seattle has found, most of the network has to be replaced every 5-7 years.

Technical issues and geography also create unique problems for citywide Wi-Fi. Where to put transmitters, interference from buildings, foilage and water, are all barriers to offering a service that is worthwhile to potential users. David Keyes, Chief Information Technology Officer for the City of Seattle noted these problems where there have been complaints of spotty and unreliable reception. Keyes talked to Brian Heaton of Government Technology:

Seattle would be open to someone taking over the system, but Keyes felt that anyone coming in to do a fresh deployment of Wi-Fi might install it a little differently in regard to wireless access point placement. The actual equipment would also need to be replaced.

Seattle's plan for municipal WiFi has been debated from the beginning. In 2008, Government Technology reporter, Chandler Harris, spoke with Bill Schrier, who was Seattle's Chief Technology Officer at the time. Schrier was also one of the harshest critics of the plan to spread Wi-Fi all over Seattle, saying:

"We found significant problems with the technology," Schrier said. "First of all, if you put up a Wi-Fi point, it will work outdoors, but radio waves don't go through walls. If you put the Wi-...

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Posted February 1, 2012 by christopher

Local governments are often looking for low-risk options for expanding broadband access to residents and local businesses. There are not many. Seattle put some extra conduit in the ground as a part of a different project that was tearing up the streets but Comcast was the only provider interested.

The problem with a haphazard program of putting conduit in the ground is that while it benefits existing providers, it does very little to help new entrants. And conduit is inherently limited -- only a few providers can benefit from it and when used up, there is no space for more providers.

In short, more conduit may slightly improve the status quo but it does little to get us to a future where residents and local businesses have a variety of choices from service providers offering fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Internet.

Smart conduit policy can lay the groundwork for lowering the cost of a community network, which can get us where we want to be. It may take time, but will create benefits far more rapidly than private providers will be building next-generation networks in most of our communities.

John Brown, a friend from Albuquerque, New Mexico, has offered some tips for communities that want to develop smart conduit policies. Brown runs CityLink Telecommunications, an impressive privately owned, open access, FTTH network that connects residents, businesses, schools, muni buildings, etc.

We tend not to support privately owned networks because for all the great work a companiy like CityLink Fiber does, one does not know who will own it in 5, 10, or 20 years. However, we recognize that CityLink Fiber is a far better partner for communities than the vast majority of companies in this space.

The following comments are taken from an email he shared with me and is permitting me to republish. Direct quotes are indented and the rest is paraphrased.

Not all conduit is created equal. A 2 inch pipe will be sufficient for perhaps 2 providers. If conduit does not have inter-duct, it is much harder for multiple providers to share it. Inter-duct creates channels within the conduit that allows a provider to pull its fiber cables through without disturbing other...

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Posted January 12, 2012 by christopher

Last year we noted that a bill to expand local authority to invest in publicly owned broadband networks would return in 2012. HB 1711 is in Committee and causing a bit of a stir. "A bit of a stir" is good -- such a reaction means it has a chance at passing and giving Washington's residents a greater opportunity to have fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet.

Washington's law presently allows Public Utility Districts to build fiber-optic networks but they cannot offer retail services. They are limited to providing wholesale services only -- working with independent service providers to bring telecom services to the public.

Unfortunately, this approach can be financially debilitating, particularly in rural areas. Building next generation networks in very low density areas is hard enough without being forced to split the revenues with third parties.

Last year, House Bill 2601 created a study to examine telecommunications reform, including the possibilty of municipality and public utility district provisioning. The University of Washington School of Law examined the issues and released a report [pdf] that recognizes the important role public sector investments can play:

U Washington Law School

Broadband infrastructure is this century’s interstate highway system: a public investment in an infrastructure that will rapidly connect Washington’s citizens statewide, nationally, and internationally; fuelling growth, competition, and innovation. Like highway access, the path to universal broadband access varies with the needs of the local community.

Our primary goal is to expand broadband access. We believe allowing municipalities and PUDs to provide broadband services addresses the most significant hurdles to broadband expansion: the high cost of infrastructure. In conjunction with a state USF, PUDs and municipalities are well placed to address the needs of their consumers.

A secondary goal is to promote a competitive marketplace. We believe that empowering PUDs and municipalities...

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Posted June 27, 2011 by christopher

We have an answer to the question of what a city gets when it commits the bare minimum to improving broadband access: more of the same. We were skeptical of Seattle's approach of using city-owned conduit to spur serious improvements to broadband and, it turns out, correct.

Only one company bid on the project, Comcast, a provider in much of Seattle already -- and a much maligned one at that. So Pioneer Square will have better access to the Internet, but from the dominant provider of high speed access in the City.

Seattle just helped Comcast consolidate its monopoly just a bit further. This is a small step forward for Pioneer Square, and a larger step backward for the City as a whole. With FiOS available in the suburbs, offering much faster and more reliable connections for the same prices, Seattle has done very little to stem the flow of techies to the burbs.

The RFP set certain requirements for use of the City's conduit, as noted in the Seattle Times article but one has to wonder if Comcast might be able to negotiate that down - few are better at exercising monopoly power than the Nation's largest cable and Internet provider.

Comcast is slated to pay $78,000 in one-time fees to cover part of the cable's installation, plus $4,057 in annual leasing fees, according to city documents.

The City elected a Mayor who promised to improve broadband access, but it seems the City Council is standing in the way of actually doing anything that would bring residents and businesses a meaningful choice in providers.

Photo, used under creative commons license, courtesy of Jeff Hathaway

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