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Why Google Fiber will never come to Seattle

"Seattle Process" stands squarely in the way.
Fiber optics.

Fiber optics. Photo: Flickr user MikeBlogs

Google is bringing high speed fiber broadband networks to homes and businesses in three cities – Kansas City, Austin and Provo. In February, it announced 34 more cities it will approach for building fiber – Portland, Phoenix, Atlanta and more. 
 
But not Seattle.
 
And Seattle won't be making Google’s list anytime soon.
 
The “Seattle Process” and a balky bureaucracy at City Hall stand squarely in the way.
 
It wasn’t always this way. We were on the short list in 2010, when Google solicited cities to apply and become its launch city. 1,100 cities applied. And Google actually came to Seattle and met with Mayor McGinn and my team when I served as Chief Technology Officer for the City.
 
Now we’re not even on Google’s “long list”.
 
But Smyrna, Georgia, and Morrisville, North Carolina, are.
 
Why won’t Google build here?
 
1. The Seattle Process.
 
When Google announced its launch city for Google Fiber – Kansas City – it was a sensation. And the very next day the Kansas City Council authorized a contract with Google for the service. Can you imagine the Seattle City Council keeping a secret like this and then acting on it in just one day? Of course not. We’d need to have endless community meetings and hearings and public floggings of Google Executives. Every citizen in a tinfoil hat who thinks fiber is just another cereal ingredient would have their three minutes in front of the Council. 
 
We also love our lawyers — and haggling over every minute detail of contracts. Overland Park, Kansas, apparently has its own version of the Seattle process. It spent nine months arguing the Google Fiber contract, including an insignificant indemnity clause. Google finally just walked away.
 
2. Pole attachments.
 
Seattle has over 100,000 utility poles, most owned by Seattle City Light and many jointly owned with CenturyLink. Under FCC rules, attachments to these poles by others must be allowed. Indeed, that’s the way cable companies Comcast and Wave have built their networks — by stringing fiber and coaxial cables on these poles.
 
But doing so is not cheap. A City Light pole lease is $28.12 a year. If the pole is co-owned by CenturyLink, the lease is $14.06 a year to City Light. At these rates, building a network on 100,000 poles to serve every home and business would cost Google up to $2.8 million just to rent the pole space.
 
But leasing the space is not the real problem. There are a lot of wires already on these poles, and many of the poles are old. As poles age, they rot from the center. Adding more cables may cause them to break. So, if Google (or anyone else) wants to add cables, they must pay City Light to survey the route, cut back vegetation overhanging the poles, test each pole and replace them if necessary.
 
This is patently unfair. Why should the latest company coming in to string wires have to pay the entire cost of the pole replacement? Moreover, this is a process that takes forever. At one time, City Light’s backlog to do pole attachment surveys and “make ready” work was over 18 months long.
 
3. Permits and Rules.
 
Oh gosh we love permits. Attaching fiber cable to a pole in Seattle may require a pole attachment permit, a street use permit, and land use and environmental permits, among others.
 
And we love rules. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has a hornet’s nest of them. Rule 2-2009, which restricts the size of the cabinets on Seattle right-of-ways that house fiber, is one of the most appalling. Typically, a few fibers from a central location run to the cabinet, and then fiber or copper cables run from the cabinet to each home.
 
SDOT requires that 60 percent of the homeowners within 100 feet of a proposed new cabinet must give written consent to allow the cabinet to be placed in the right-of-way. In many neighborhoods, of course, properties are inhabited by renters, making homeowners very hard to track down.
 
This rule appears to be unique in the nation. Certainly it is not used by any other city in the Seattle area, or by Phoenix, Denver or Minneapolis. As a result, telecommunications companies invest their dollars for improving broadband elsewhere, and cities like Graham, Washington, have much faster Internet speeds than Seattle.
 
Citizens’ groups have tried to change this rule. UPTUN (Upping Technology for Underserved Neighbors) has been working on it for four years to little avail. And again, this is a rule, not a law or ordinance, which means it could be changed with just a stroke of the SDOT Director’s or Mayor’s pen.
 
4. Build out requirements.
 
Build-out requirements are a standard feature of cable company franchises. A city gives a franchise to a cable company to serve a certain area, such as Seattle, north of the ship canal. But the company has to agree to build out and serve every premise in that area. This is a lofty goal because it means all neighborhoods, rich and poor, get served, although it increases the overall cost because the company builds cable on streets with few customers.
 
That’s not the way Google does it. In Kansas City there were 202 “fiberhoods,” but each such fiberhood had to have a minimum number of customers sign up for service, or the network would not be constructed. Few customers, no service. Google says that 180 of the 202 Kansas City fiberhoods have qualified for service, including 17 of the 20 with the lowest median incomes. 
 
Given all these restrictions, why would Google ever build in any city?
 
Some cities recognize the value of high speed broadband and are willing to become partners. Kansas City wanted Google Fiber so badly it agreed, in its contract, to review all permits within five days. The city gave Google space, power and “related services” for its equipment at no charge. They also gave Google access to all its assets and infrastructure without cost. These assets included “conduit, fiber, poles, rack space, nodes, buildings, facilities … [and] available land”.
 
And the city did not charge Google for permit or inspection fees. There are no build-out requirements, although Google does consult with the city in determining which neighborhoods to serve. Kansas City gave Google a ten year contract on these terms.
 
Did Kansas City residents complain about these terms? You bet they did. According to the San Jose Mercury News, "they couldn't get the service soon enough."
 
Austin, Texas, is another impending Google Fiber city. Just the announcement of Google’s plans caused Time-Warner Cable to increase its Internet speed sixfold at no increase in cost.
 
Provo, Utah, is the third Google Fiber city. It enticed Google by selling its city fiber network, built at a cost of $39 million, to Google for just one dollar. Provo and Austin each have robust technology-based economies – and they are going to expand even further with competitive gigabit broadband.
 
So is all hope lost for Google Fiber in Seattle? What would it take to entice Google here?
 
This city is extraordinarily generous in investing in its future. It has passed housing levies and library levies and family-and-education levies. We’re building a $4 billion tunnel under downtown which will serve only a small segment of the population — freight and those driving Highway 99. We’ve considered spending the $700 million or more it would cost to build our own fiber network, which might provide a billion dollars in benefits each year. 
 
Could we simply agree to pay for all the pole replacements and permitting as a city, and hire a few extra employees to expedite the process? Couldn’t we just hand over title to a few strands of the 500 mile fiber cable network we’ve built to Google Fiber? And eliminate archaic rules like the infamous SDOT 2-2009?
 
In return, we’d get a gigabit of connectivity to homes and businesses throughout the city. Each one of us would get 10 times the speed for half the cost. We’d be as connected as Gladstone, Missouri, and Olathe, Kansas.
 
There's just one question: Do we love our Seattle process too much?

Bill Schrier retired in 2012 as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the City of Seattle. During his nine-year tenure, he directed information technology operations and policy, reporting directly to Mayors Greg Nickels and Mike McGinn. Bill is presently a senior policy advisor to the Chief Information Officer of the State of Washington. He lives in West Seattle with his wife Kathy and granddaughter Elizabeth.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 7:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle suffers from too much democracy, with an IQ of 160 but an EG of 2.

Simon

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 7:05 a.m. Inappropriate

h an IQ of 160 but an EQ of 2.

Simon

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 8:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle the city is perfectly balanced between attraction and repulsion. Any little changes in process could upset the equilibrium.

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 8:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Excellent article. This precisely nails the biggest impediments to a fiber network in Seattle. And the "Seattle Process" also is hindering competition too, which is the most efficient way to achieve the goal of increased broadband speed (witness Austin, Texas). While CenturyLink's claims to want to be competitive may be dubious, Rule 2-2009 prevents us from finding out. Moreover, at this point, there seems to be no reason to grant exclusive cable franchises. If we let Wave into Comcast's markets, that could help spur network upgrades too - especially since Wave had been increasing its fiber capabilities.

kevin22

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 12:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Kevin22:

Thanks for your comments. Good observations. Seattle (and no other city) grants exclusive cable franchises. It certainly looks that way from maps, but what has happened is that the cable companies CHOOSE not to compete or overbuild each other. They agreed to this in 1997. Here's an article by former White House advisor Susan Crawford which describes this in more detail: http://www.muninetworks.org/content/looming-cable-monopoly

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 9:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Precise and well-written, Bill. I hope this article will be influential with the Mayor and particularly SDOT.

picola30

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 10:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle does love it process. I recall when the city needed to re-negotiate it's contract for paper products. This was in 1973 and the entire process ground to a halt when it came to toilet paper. There were 8 different choices; single ply smooth, single ply glossy, single ply rough (wood chips within), double ply quilted, double ply smooth, double ply quilted ⅞ or narrow, double ply smooth ⅞ or narrow, double ply rough.

Apparently the asses in the council were all of different sensitivity and they couldn't agree. After three months of testing and meetings they went back to the original supplier, single ply rough. Glad to see nothing has changed.

Djinn

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 12:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Djinn:
From my personal experience, the toilet paper is smoother now. Can't say who supplies it, however!
-bill

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 11:37 a.m. Inappropriate

Author's basic points make sense; unelected bureaucrats have too much power in Seattle, and the Council and Mayor do little to control or exercise oversight of abuses and dysfunction.

Thus, I don't agree "Seattle suffers from too much democracy." We have too little democracy that actually empowers people, and too much process that doesn't facilitate empowerment beyond the agencies. Example: neighborhood planning--lots of outreach (process) but little influence by residents and businesses on the content and implementation and funding of the plan (empowerment).

As for SDOT Rule 2-2009, it explicitly does not apply to installations below grade. Is that a problem? (serious question; too much water in our ground?) The 60% approval requirement only applies when a "hardship waiver" is requested to avoid putting the thing in the ground.

louploup

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 11:40 a.m. Inappropriate

BTW, total elimination of control over communication facilities in public space is not necessarily a good thing. You would prefer http://www.vintag.es/2013/02/telephone-wires-over-new-york-c-1887.html ?

louploup

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 12:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Louploup:
I agree - there needs to be some reasonable regulation of equipment going onto poles and into the right-of-way. However there are plenty of places in Seattle where, if you look up, you will see a lot of wires - not as bad as your photo, of course!
-bill

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 2:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Exaggeration is the best way to make an argument! Easiest anyway.

I find the utility boxes allowed in parking strips in residential neighborhoods in front of many new apartments to be quite annoying. Power supply I think. City Light. Ugly gray boxes; they are a blight. Why can't they be put on the property being developed? In our neighborhood, we got permits to "beautify" a few of them, but that isn't cheap for a volunteer non-profit (about a grand each). http://fremontneighborhoodcouncil.org/utility-box-at-bfday-attracts-some-love/

louploup

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 10:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Louploup:
You cite one place (of several) where reasonable regulation makes sense. I know some companies, like Centurylink, have developed "wraps" which neighbors can choose to reduce the ugliness. Landscaping/bushes are another, and placing them on the property is a third. All good ideas.
-bill

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 7:06 a.m. Inappropriate

That's one of my peeves, too. Somehow, SDOT seems to be exempt from the regulations on utility boxes in the right of way. Recently, along Roy Street near the Seattle Center, many new ones have been placed near the intersections. They are nearly the size of refrigerators! There was no "Seattle process" for these - they just appeared - and are entirely counter to a pedestrian friendly environment.

I sure wouldn't want a free-for-all to all the utility companies!

pragmatic

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 1:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Pragmatic:

My understanding is that Comcast has been placing boxes in the right-of-way without abiding by the SDOT Director's Rule. This is information from a third party and I have not verified it, but it might be the source of the boxes you see.

-bill

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 12:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Louploup -

Probably about 10x the cost to put it underground, because it requires conditioned air and power because there's no ventilation - so you have to essentially use something the size of a bomb shelter. Also, to be able to access the underground electronic equipment, you'd still need to have an at-grade footprint almost the size of the thing you'd put at-grade in the first place.

It's not technically infeasible, but from a business standpoint, you'd probably never recoup the cost, which is why the providers aren't doing it today.

picola30

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 12:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Picola30:
Well said about the below-grade cabinets.
-bill

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 3 p.m. Inappropriate

I realize that underground power needs cooling. (I worked at City Light at one time and costed out under grounding of 115 Kv distribution.) Are you saying these fiber systems carry so much juice they get hot like power supply? I'm surprised at that.

louploup

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 3:09 p.m. Inappropriate

You've got routers and probably DSLAM's and other electronic equipment that have to get in there, so yes, you're going to generate heat.

You can passively cool the stuff above-ground with cabinets, but if you want to get it underground, you've got to ensure for ventilation and address humidity. That means a pretty large concrete enclosure so you prevent water from entering.

picola30

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 4:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Yup, I can confirm this. I got a chance to tour one of these underground vaults. The above-ground boxes are really easy to passively cool / prevent moisture from building up and destroying the equipment.

The underground vaults require a controlled environment that removes the excess heat and humidity. They're about the size of a city bus and require a huge excavation site to install them.

In addition to all of this, the vault cover actually requires more square footage than an above-ground cabinet, it just doesn't rise up quite as high. In addition to that, a separate power meter base needs to be installed nearby for emergency shut-off purposes and because the vault draws a decent amount of current.

When it comes down to it, spending more time arguing vaults vs. above-ground cabinets really isn't helping the overall goal here. The important part is Seattle's falling further and further behind when it comes down to broadband connectivity. This equipment argument shouldn't have taken over 4 years to solve.

The bottom line: we're falling further and further behind when it comes to broadband access. While people who don't have any access to high-speed internet in Seattle are a minority, most of us only have a single choice when it comes to our internet provider: our cable company. Our process has blocked at least two providers who wanted to compete with the cable companies. Who ends up suffering? We do.

When there's no competition, there's very little incentive to lower prices or offer better service. When you make it more difficult for the providers to build out, it costs them more money, which lowers the incentive for them to move into our communities. They aren't going to upgrade every neighborhood out of the goodness of their hearts... it has to make financial sense for them. I'm not at all suggesting we give them free reign over our public space and our infrastructure. There has to be a better middle ground somewhere.

What ends up happening? Some people can't work from home, or take classes online, or play online games, or stream movies / tv shows, or video chat with loved ones on the other side of the planet, or upload high-definition video, etc. This is an issue that's impacting all levels of society, but if we don't start taking some sort of action to promote better access to everyone, this is going to impact the poor and the middle class the most as it begins to affect education and upward mobility.

We should be incentivizing providers to build out more competitive choices in our neighborhoods, not throwing more restrictive and time-consuming processes at this. We're all losing out, as a result.

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 10:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Digitalsingularity:
Wow, great comment. You should write for Crosscut! Lots of good points in your comment and I agree with them.
-bill

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 10:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for explanation, digitalsingularity. I agree it should not take 4 years to resolve the problem. I suggest the main causes are summarized in once sentence in my Tue, Mar 4, 11:37 a.m. post.

My suggested solution is similar to what the cell phone network does; puts the stuff on private property. It really shouldn't be that difficult or expensive.

louploup

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 3:39 p.m. Inappropriate

"We’re building a $4 billion tunnel under downtown which will serve only a small segment of the population — freight and those driving Highway 99."

It also benefits anyone who has to live or work near 99. Anyone who works downtown can tell you how a small backup on 99 can cause half of the business district to turn into a parking lot. I take the *bus* downtown (not via 99), and I can tell when 99 is clogged!

An improvement in one area can help out a whole lot of people indirectly. That's why Kansas City is doing this: an improvement in network connectivity makes that city much more appealing to people who work or play on their computers. It might be that only a minority of the population will actually use capabilities that they need Google Fiber for, but being a magnet city for all the techies in 3 states will benefit the economy and the city overall far more than the investment.

And that's also why Seattle is so low on the list. People here might not love their internet connection, but it's good enough that the city is already one of the top cities in the country for internet startups. There's little incentive for anyone to improve this because it's not like the fine city of Graham is going to steal Seattle's thunder.

If you want Google Fiber here, you need to give 'the powers that be' a reason to do it. "I can't watch Netflix in 4K for free" is not that reason, unless you are seriously considering moving to Graham (or Kansas City, or South Korea) if you don't get it.

Abdul

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 4:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Abdul -

Your comments are right on target. For most people in Seattle, their broadband connection is great. There are actually just a few problem areas in the city: Beacon Hill, Central District, West Seattle.

For those people in those neighborhoods, the problem is acute. Speeds slower than 1Mbps - equivalent to the third world. For a city to ignore the needs of its most underserved populations is a disgrace. People need these broadband connections to order the most basic services today, including finding a job.

picola30

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 10:11 p.m. Inappropriate

Abdul:
If people had truly high-speed, high-definition, low-latency Internet at home, they wouldn't have to make so many trips. They could take many classes at home (or their kids could) and interact with others in the classroom in real-time almost like being there. They could visit their doctors or shop at Nordstrom's online with two-way video.

Think about 1999 - no smartphones, tablet computers, Internet was low-res websites and email. 15 years from now we'll be crying for high speed broadband. Whole rooms with screens on the walls for interactive meetings, telecommuting, having "virtual" dinner with family and friends, classrooms and gaming. We can't imagine all the apps we'll have in 15 years but we know they will suck a lot of bandwidth. Again, in 1999, could you imagine an iPad or a smartphone or YouTube or Netflix?.

We can't rest on our many ways of attracting startups and tech-savvy employees. We need fiber broadband.
-bill

Posted Sat, May 31, 1:31 a.m. Inappropriate

I LOVE THAT MAN. I love you man. You’re my hero Mike McGinn\read on:

Corporate giant Costco fails as a marketing model in terms of transportation. A single Costco induces 10x the fuel combustion compared to neighborhood stores or district shopping centers, while putting them out of business. Amazon and Boeing similarly fall short in these terms of transportation costs and impacts. A progressive carbon tax would bankrupt these (low-cost?) corporate giants.

Meanwhile, Wsdot consistently constructs absurdly substandard highways. Seattle transit agencies fall short of national standards, nevermind world standards. BNSF plans to dedicate its rails to fossil fuel transport through the Pacific Northwest. Seattle’s economy is more dependent upon diesel-spewing global trade than any US port. Yeah, we could address global warming, but the subject of transport is too far down the list of concerns Seattlers hold dearly, never f’kn mind competent discussion among peers. So says THIS Oregonian.

ODOT was finished with Wsdot boys in 2008. Wsdot also misled Port authorities about rail oval track spurs and the 'Spagetti ramps' hazards on Hayden Island. Washington advice in transportation matters is no longer accepted south of thee Columbia River, do tell.
Bertha must not proceed, period, end of story.
Drill-Fill Sea Fence? Not a good idea, period.
MercerWest QueenAnne Truck Route? How f’n dare you?
Check out the =SDOT= design to retain Battery Street Tunnel.
YOU WILL LIKE IT, honest. BOX CUT-COVER/SEAWALL
Do not neglect/reject its study. Study it or shut up. Michael McGinn for Governor, you dimwits misinformed unknowingly and not. Gov McGinn!
Are you listening? Tacomans? What is it with Seattlers? Goodgod.
You get Bertha out of there, done, now.
BOX Cut-cover Tunnel/Seawall option instead.
The drill-fill “sea-fence” is poorly-advised.
Goodgod, what horrible incompetence!

Wells

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 7:23 p.m. Inappropriate

I share the disappointment that Google has bypassed Seattle for a high-speed fiber network but I take exception with Schrier's characterization of the "Seattle Process." If we are to promote democracy through citizen engagement then testimony from citizens in "tinfoil hats" is a small price to pay. While fast-tracking public-private partnerships can promote technological advances, it can also back-fire and lead to long-lasting ill-will and impediments to future progress.

fward

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 7:55 p.m. Inappropriate

"...impediments to future progress."

Think Solyndra and SpectraWatt. On the other hand Google does work which is what the end result should be, progress that works for the people, not a process the impedes the people's progress.

Djinn

Posted Tue, Mar 4, 10:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Fward:

Some process is certainly ok, but we do it incessantly week after week month after month, year after frigging year. Look at what it took to make a decision on the Viaduct replacement. Or the idiocy going on with Uber and Lyft etc. right now. And we seem to hate private businesses with a passion.

I worked for Greg Nickels, and one of the reasons he was disliked is because, when people wanted to revisit a decision, he would say "we've already decided that, the Council has passed it, we're moving on."

-bill

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 10:24 a.m. Inappropriate

At the risk of being repetitive: The problem is not Seattle "process," the problem is lack of Seattle political power equity. The solution is more real democracy (and less lipstick on a pig process).

louploup

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 1:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Louploup:
Generally I would agree, but we also need to make decisions and get going, rather than endless debate.
-bill

Posted Sun, Mar 9, 8:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Hell no, we need more smoke filled back rooms that keep the tin foil brigade out.

Simon

Posted Tue, Mar 11, 10:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Not sure what my opinion is on the amount of process, although I'd probably come down on the side of more rather than less. But in my opinion we have a lot of that process because our council, and sometimes other government entities, are intent upon figuring out a way to force some unwanted project on those it/they expect to pay for it. In the case of Uber & Lyft, et al, I can say that this is less a measure of hating private business and more a matter of making sure those who use those services are safe while doing so, and have somewhere to turn, i.e., insurance, when the inevitable dreadful crash or crashes occur. Right now it's hard enough to get compensation when cabs get in crashes, despite the rules in place. Those rules should be revisited to prevent cab companies from putting forward the argument that their drivers are independent contractors for whose negligence they are not responsible. As it is, the cities are not enforcing requirements that taxi drivers have their own insurance. Uber, et al, are exciting new models and appear to have some benefits over cabs. At least they provide a choice. However, it isn't hate for private business that is holding this up, it's cowardly council members that want to go forward but can't figure out how to escape the public outcry if they fail to require sufficient protections for the traveling public. I don't think they care, but they're not so dim that they don't realize that we do.

mspat

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 7:05 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for your response to my comment, Bill. Re: cable competition, since Comcast's plant needs to be eventually upgraded to gigabit capability, and Wave now has gigabit capability, the City could easily provide incentives to Wave to overbuild Comcast if it wanted to do so. It is just a matter of political will. But, I do acknowledge that without a viable 3rd competitor (like an AT&T; v. CenturyLink), Seattle's market will not be like what we now see in Austin, Texas.

kevin22

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 8:13 a.m. Inappropriate

As for Austin, Texas, there is a cable overbuilder in that market named Grande Communications. It was originally funded by VC money during the dotcom era. It ultimately was recapitalized in 2009 by a private equity firm that focuses on media companies, spent 3 years upgrading its network to state-of-the-art fiber, and now is under-pricing Google Fiber's to-date phantom gigabit offering in Austin, and with a promise to keep data private! A review of publicly available documents implies that Grande Communications is generating 33% EBITDA margins. . . .

Wave is now positioned to do the same thing in Seattle. It was recently recapitalized by a private equity firm, and has acquired a couple of local firms focused on fiber broadband service (albeit mostly to commercial enterprises). Seattle just needs to find out what would motivate Wave to overbuild - it could be as simple as mitigating the "Seattle Process".

kevin22

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 1:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Kevin22:

Hmmm ... that's an interesting question about incentivizing Wave. One thing we'd need is for Wave to have a truly differentiated product, e.g. fiber-to-the-premise at Gigabit speeds, not just expanding their hybrid-fiber-coax system. Would be hard to figure out how to do that, however, without offering the same incentives to all other private companies. Maybe by requiring the companies to adhere to net neutrality? Interesting lines of thinking here.

-bill

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 4:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes, the incentives, whatever they are, would have to be to build fiber plant to the premise. I don't think overt financial incentives are necessary, but somebody in a position of authority needs to find out from Wave what is stopping them from competing with Comcast in Seattle with a fiber network. We know what CenturyLink claims to need - the answer may not be all that different. If it will take financial incentives, that is an argument to publicly finance a city-owned broadband network operation.

kevin22

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 12:19 p.m. Inappropriate

This is a fascinating example of national, not just local, failure to imagine and enable the future.

It's Private Sector exploitation and competition, combined with elected official denseness and statutory/regulatory drag.

Google, as mentioned, looks to position itself at the center of both infrastructure and data collection, and has the resources to make the play. Caveat emptor!

Cable companies, knowing that their business model has one foot in the grave, are forestalling their own demise by obstruction.

Elected officials, faced with a puzzle that combines a need for technological ingenuity, financial resources, and creative lawmaking/ regulation, can find no way through the thicket of competing interests and needs.

And most alarmingly, the U.S. has no policy that will place cutting-edge communication ability in the hands of its citizens.

This last point is the most concerning, and reflects a national paralysis of sorts. While high-speed broadband will be used by millions simply to game and view, the big returns are in creativity and rapid development of new frontiers. The diffusion and rapid development of these capabilities in other countries means that the U.S. lags at the vital core and foundation of technology.

There will certainly be corporate players who step forward with individual projects--uncoordinated, profit-driven, and partial with respect to regional coverage and socioeconomic access. That will put the corporate stamp on what should be a universally available public resource.

What's the old slogan for Seattle City Light, the people's power supplier? "That man (sic) may use it as freely as the air he breathes and the waters that flow," or something like that?

Seneca

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 1:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Seneca:

You are making a good case for a publicly owned fiber broadband utility with a parallel in the publicly owned Seattle City Light. I do like that approach because the public utility can be network neutral, does not supply content on its own (i.e. it would be all private companies providing Internet, phone service, TV channels, etc. over the publicly owned fiber), etc.

Trouble is the business model doesn't work - there are not enough dollars to be made in that model to pay back the cost of building the fiber network. So that means the public utility needs to be subsidized through property taxes or another means. That's ok - we subsidize street repairs, libraries, parks and a whole variety of other stuff through property taxes. But that takes a leap of leadership by our elected officials.

-bill

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 3:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Great issue, that's for sure. Count me in as another one of those who would like to see something like this done in conjunction with Seattle City Light. Under the last City Light Superintendent, there were several very smart people out at the North Service Center who thought a good business case could be built for this, especially if done in conjunction with automatic meter reading, time of day rates, load/outage management, you get the drill. No one was ready to push it from the business side of the house, so it never got any formal discussion. Doubt that their current administration would be interested in advancing it, but you never know.

jmanthony

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 4:38 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree that City Light is a very logical candidate to provide fiber broadband. It has the best chance to work around the "Seattle Process", since it already has access to much of the relevant infrastructure and the critical relationships. I am not sure that a new monopoly (even if city-owned) is the best long-term approach due to the technological expertise required.

City Light would face legal hurdles in addition to financing issues, as Comcast and/or CenturyLink would immediately sue. However, while a tax increase would be required, the savings from reduced cable prices due to competition, alone, should more than offset the tax increase. That is what is now happening in Provo, Utah.

kevin22

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 9:33 p.m. Inappropriate

The $28.12 pole lease sounds expensive, but how does it compare to other cities (at least those not giving pole space away)? If so many poles are old and need to be replaced or repaired, maybe it's not enough. Or is City Light taking the current pole-attachment lease money and using it for something other than maintaining poles?

d_e_f

Posted Wed, Mar 5, 9:53 p.m. Inappropriate

"Public-private partnership" is just another way of saying "public cost/private profit". No thanks. Let the fools in Provo give away their infrastructure just so they can plug in to the google data-siphon. If you want a project the public can rally around, find a way to build in fiber with City Light's smart meter roll-out. Forget the (non)competition, and make way for a well-regulated utility.

swendr

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 8:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Provo's households are paying about $5.50/month for 15 years in exchange for FREE Centurylink-like broadband speed for 7 years OR gigabit broadband speed for $70/month. That is a PHENOMENAL deal. The only downside, as you say, is the Google data-siphon. What else is not to like? In Seattle, if the $600m-$700m estimated cost is accurate, then it would likely cost about $10/month/household for the life of any bond issued (say 30 years)to finance a city-owned network. If that is what it takes to get CenturyLink and Comcast to become more customer-oriented, the cost would be more than worth it to me, as we would reap more in benefits from either lower prices or faster speeds from Comcast and CenturyLink.

kevin22

Posted Fri, Mar 7, 6:59 p.m. Inappropriate

JMAnthony and Kevin22:
The spirit of innovation is long dead - or at least buried and dormant - under the current superintendent. He has actively resisted any cooperation with the rest of city government to even explore the broadband business. In fact, although City Light owned fibers in the common bundle (along with Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle Schools, University of Washington, etc.), City Light spent millions of dollars of ratepayer money constructing its own separate fiber network citing non-existent federal regulations. And, of course, the superintendent now wants to raise rates. The original entrepreneurial spirit of J.D. Ross is no longer there.
-bill

Posted Sun, Mar 9, 11:02 a.m. Inappropriate

That's really sad, Bill. Sounds like the mentality of City Light's current administration is paralleling that of the Roberta Palm Bradley days. And while it's been a long time since I worked with Ed Murray, back in his days with Martha Choe, he showed very little interest in how the City operates, so I seriously doubt he's going to be the impetus for any change. His handling of recent Police Department issues is also anything but reassuring.

John

jmanthony

Posted Mon, Mar 10, 5:06 p.m. Inappropriate

John:
Well, there's always hope for Murray. He seems to be hiring good folks. I'm especially encouraged by Robert Feldstein. Not sure if there is vision in the Mayor's Office akin to the Norm Rice days. Hope springs eternal!
-bill

Posted Sun, Mar 9, 1:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Tacoma is much more deserving of Goggle Fiber than Seattle or Portland. I don't know why; it just is.

Posted Thu, Mar 13, 1:38 p.m. Inappropriate

My biggest problem with the article is the author. Mr. Schrier was the IT director for 8 years. During that time he never mentioned the "process" problem nor did he do anything about it. This is revisionist history or an attempt to get his old job back. He failed to lead when he had the chance. That is why we don't have better broadband, not because of "process". BTW, I lived in Portland for a while and recall the city required cabinets to be underground.

Posted Mon, Mar 17, 7:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle's so-called leaders seek to grind our economy to a halt through regulatory strangleholds by taking the lead from one of their misguided heroes.

The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation.
-- Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

digger

Posted Thu, May 22, 12:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Ah yes, comes now Bill Schreier, another "progressive" bureaucrat with an ax to grind, to bitch about the city occasionally having to pause before taking the suitcase full of cash. The reason there is a "Seattle process" here is because we are burdened with a corrupt and stupid local government that constantly needs to be stopped before it kills another neighborhood.

NotFan

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