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Another Seattle Internet hoax? CenturyLink vows real gigabit in Seattle

The company announced this morning that Seattle is one of 10 new cities where they'll be rolling out super fast fiber to the home. We've heard that before.

In a remarkable announcement today, CenturyLink, formerly known as “the telephone company”, says it will bring gigabit Internet service via a fiber-to-the-home network to Seattle.

Seattle has been left at the altar of fiber-to-the-home high-speed Internet twice before — first by Google and then by Gigabit Squared, which is now being sued by the City of Seattle over their breakup.

Is the third time the charm? Can Seattle Mayor Ed Murray deliver on the gigabit promise that his two predecessors, Mike McGinn and Greg Nickels, could not? Will Seattle actually see serious competition to the price-gouging tactics of the cable monopolies?  

A press conference on Tuesday, scheduled 9:15 a.m. at Seattle City Hall, should tell us more.

First, a dose of reality.  

CenturyLink does, indeed, plan to introduce a fiber-to-the-home network in Seattle. Meg Andrews of CenturyLink says “this product will be true fiber-to-the-premise/home, not fiber to a box in a neighborhood, then connecting to existing copper wires.”  

But it doesn’t exist, yet.  

Sue Anderson, Vice-President and General Manager for CenturyLink’s Greater Puget Sound Region says the fiber network will build upon CenturyLink’s existing fiber, and will connect “tens of thousands” of homes in Seattle over the next year or so. Indeed, she says a number of apartment buildings and condo buildings in Seattle are already connected, with gigabit speeds available.  

The new gigabit service will be available soon to single family homes in “the neighborhoods of Ballard, West Seattle, the Central District and Beacon Hill,” according to Anderson, although she won’t give a specific map or timeframe for the rollout, other than “now into 2015”. 

The gigabit service will be “symmetrical”, which means the same billion-bits-per-second both to each home (download) and from each home (upload). This contrasts with current cable companies, which advertise 50 or 100 megabits per second (Mbps), but split that speed with 50 or 100 or more homes in a neighborhood.  Anderson urges Seattleites to sign up for notifications about the service at this website.

Priced at $79.99 a month with a 12-month commitment and a “bundle”, which Andrews says would include home phone and long-distance service, CenturyLink’s pricing will be comparable to gigabit internet offered by Google in Kansas City.

Gigabit will only be available in “select neighborhoods” of Seattle, not in other areas of the region which CenturyLink serves, such as Bellevue. 

This announcement is definitely an expansion of CenturyLink’s network. Anderson says 40 Mbps and 100 Mbps service have been available to some homes and apartment buildings in Seattle for some time, and the gigabit fiber service is available to many businesses throughout the region. But these services run over an older network of fiber cables to a distribution box in the neighborhood and then over copper wires to individual homes. The new announcement is true fiber cable to individual homes and premises.

CenturyLink appears to have the wherewithal to deliver on their announcement. They own or co-own (with Seattle City Light) 100,000 utility poles in Seattle. They have copper telephone wires to virtually every one of 320,000 homes, businesses and apartments. They already offer the gigabit service in Omaha, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Today’s announcement includes not just Seattle, but at least 9 other cities, as shown in the map.

So, could the City of Seattle screw this up again?

Seattle has certainly tried to over-regulate in the past. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has a Directors’ Rule which requires any company putting a telecommunications cabinet in the right-of-way (parking strip) to get the explicit approval of 60 percent of homeowners who live within 100 feet of such cabinets. That’s a high bar in some neighborhoods, where many homes are rented, and homeowners might live in Tukwila or Timbuktu.

The rule, which is unique in the nation, if not the world, stymies the efforts of companies like CenturyLink (or Comcast, Verizon, AT&T) to build fiber-to-the-premise networks. SDOT is re-thinking this rule, and probably will propose legislation to the City Council to remove this impediment.  

For right now, however, Anderson says CenturyLink will put the boxes on poles which it owns, which allows it to continue work on the fiber network.

The holy grail of competition, of course — and the cash cow for Internet providers — is Cable TV. Which highlights one possible reason CenturyLink is so eager to bring true fiber to Seattle. The company’s newest TV service, Prism TV, has been marketed heavily in Las Vegas and elsewhere. And it’s delivered not by cable or satellite — but by fiber.

This service offers true competition to Comcast and Wave, which presently split the Seattle cable television market along geographic lines.  

Will CenturyLink offer Prism in Seattle?

Sue Anderson is coy about that. “We need to have the underlying high speed Internet available before deploying the TV product. Centurylink will continue to evaluate cities where Prism TV might launch next.”

In places where Prism TV is available, it costs between $80 and $90 per month.  If Prism TV launches in Seattle, what will it cost? Anderson refuses to speculate.

However Prism TV probably would require CenturyLink and the City to negotiate a cable television franchise such as those presently in place with Wave and Comcast. 

Portland and Kansas City have eagerly embraced competition by negotiating favorable cable TV franchises with Google. But the City of Seattle still can stifle competition by overly regulating CenturyLink or others who would compete with existing cable companies through onerous conditions on a cable franchise.

Here again the city has a unique regulation — a Cable Customer Bill of Rights (CCBOR), the stiff customer service regulations of which might actually make it harder for CenturyLink to enter the cable market. (The company’s customer service is already highly regulated by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.)

Can CenturyLink deliver on its bold announcement? Will it expand its commitment beyond the four announced neighborhoods? Can Mayor Ed Murray deliver on his promises for a competitive internet and cable television environment?

Only time will answer these questions. 

But, at this point, the answers seem to be 'Yes' — a positive sign for true gigabit networks and real competition in Seattle's cable market.

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, Aug 5, 5:27 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks Bill. Please continue to report on this issue.

ivan

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 9:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks, Ivan. Fingers crossed that this one will pan out ...
-bill

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 7:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Love the really old truck in the photo.

Will believe it when I can measure it. They can't even deliver the speeds they promise now, with plans that max out far below Comcast's lowest tier. Even with the sweet 50% off they're giving me to stay for another year, it's maddenly frustrating. Of course, they'll have to reduce everyone to the rate I'm getting to offer a product so much (allegedly) better for that price (which is good compared to their other prices and bad compared to other developing countries' high speed efforts).

Bundling it with a landline is like Ivar's giving away free bikes at the drive-through.

tvjames

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 2:26 p.m. Inappropriate

What do you think fiber-to-the-home is? Landline, baby.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 6:45 p.m. Inappropriate

NotFan:
Good comment. Also, the services you get from the cable company - TV, telephone and internet - are all landline too!
-bill

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 6:44 p.m. Inappropriate

tvjames:
One clarification: Comcast and other cable companies advertise speeds of 50 or 100 megabits per second, but that is always (a) shared by 50 or 100 or 150 homes in a neighborhood and (2) the download speed - the upload speed is always much lower. CenturyLink's Gigabit is symmetrical - 1 billion bits per second, up and 1 billion down.
But I agree, we should see what's delivered - what the true speed is.
-bill

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 7:31 a.m. Inappropriate

On the positive side, getting a competitor to Comcast will benefit all of us.

On the negative side, does this mean each residential block will get one of these refrigerator-sized wiring cabinets standing on the sidewalk? I hope a better solution can be found.

pragmatic

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 2:29 p.m. Inappropriate

For starters, they're not "refrigerator sized," and secondly, if you actually read this story it says they'll put the boxes up on their poles. Unlike the other shysters that have made announcements (my favorite being McGinn's cronies at "Gigabit Squared"), CenturyLink actually has the means to do anything.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 6:48 p.m. Inappropriate

NotFan:
Again, your comments are spot on. CenturyLink says they have boxes which will go up on poles and be less than 48" tall. A "small" refrigerator I guess, but not the much larger boxes used years ago.
After the SDOT Directors' rule is modified they will also be adding some in the parking strip/right-of-way if that is easier than putting on poles.
Pragmatic:
You are correct. It is the competition which is really important here. Competition usually brings better service and lower prices.
-bill

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 8:49 p.m. Inappropriate

I have to chuckle at our civil servants who obviously slept through their economics class, if they ever even took one. Lower prices, he predicts. Oh, you kidder, you. Really, I'm not sure what's more charming, plain old stupidity or willful ignorance.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 9:30 p.m. Inappropriate

NotFan:
"usually" is the operative word.
Every economics class I took said more competition from the private sector is better as did "the school of hard knocks"!
-bill

Posted Thu, Aug 7, 7:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Well, if you look at the new Mercer street development, the new wiring cabinets *are* refrigerator sized - nearly 6' tall, 4' wide, and about 2' deep. Brand new, put in during the last year. The article says that pole mount boxes are possible, but I didn't see mention of them being required (as opposed to sidewalk mount).

On Roy street, there are some places where the usable sidewalk is narrowed from 6' (already narrow for a commercial area) to 4' to go around one of these boxes. I can hardly imagine the tolerance if such boxes are allowed on residential streets.

pragmatic

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 8:30 a.m. Inappropriate

How about we create a public utility to roll this out and eliminate the rent-seeking telecoms from the picture? If Comcast's recent public example of customer non-service and past customer abuse by telecoms (cramming, fees disguised as taxes, etc.) is any indication, eliminating the few existing regulations like the CCBOR would just be feeding the public to the lions.

Neoliberalism starts at home. The incessant chorus of "deregulate" and "privatize" from policy-makers across the political spectrum will grind us into dust if we continue to listen to it.

swendr

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 6:51 p.m. Inappropriate

swendr:
I would prefer to see a public utility building fiber-to-the-home. That would be like the streets - the city provides them but anyone can drive on them and build a business driving on them. A city-owned fiber-to-the-home network would allow anyone - including me or you - to open our own telephone company or internet service. Lots more competition. Trouble is, it is $700 to $800 million. Not even Seattle's generous taxpayers have the stomach to vote for floating a bond like that.
-bill

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 8:51 p.m. Inappropriate

Ya never know. Seattle's voters are regularly pretty stupid and gullible. Maybe they'll go for it if you can convince 'em it's for the children. Throw in some phony civil rights talk, and maybe even a dash of climate change, and you just might succeed. And don't forget world-class, walkable, vibrant, and urban.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Aug 9, 2:02 p.m. Inappropriate

An oligopoly is not real competition. True competition brings prices down, not increases them. Real muni broadband, even if it is 100MB, is the only competition that will do that under the conditions setup by the incombents.

You are very likely overestimating the costs too, those numbers are what everyone uses to dissmiss it, based upon 2007 data when you were there. A bond issue may now actually less likely because of this misinformation. An independant study needs to be done in light of the possiblilities in 2014. No one is calling for that. Why? The city has more cash flow now too.

What could have been done here is think OUTSIDE the box. The city could have purchased those cabinets themselves, and let CenturyLink share them, but leave for space to SHARE it with others, including a muni broadband service. This could have been useful for any type of service, FTTN, FTTP, and WiFi.

Pooh-pooh that all you want, but the city has actually set themsleves up for a more expensive roll out now for muni broadband, if that ever occurs. It makes it LESS rather than more likely. And accomodating CenturyLink to the exclusion of others is not promoting competition, no matter how many times you say it. The proof is in the pricing, not just "access."

Marksp

Posted Sat, Aug 9, 2:34 p.m. Inappropriate

BTW, keep in mind that there can be only one cabinet per pole, so acomodating others will require more midspan poles that no one wants to spend the money on, not to mention the aesthetic implications of a "forest of poles." No one seems interested in undergrounding or more ground level cabinets because of the cost, space, and logistics involved. Hence poles are the easiest option, but the city just made it more expensive than it had to be in order to stick to the Gigbit holy grail.

Marksp

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 9:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Agree with swendr re customer non-service and abuse and have many stories to tell from personal experience. Also re CCBOR, which has been helpful to me in the recent past in a dispute where Comcast was completely intransigent.

As for Centurylink, well, they recently upped my phone bill from @ $35/month to nearly $45/month-- approximately 25% increase-- and I am getting nothing more for it. Looks like I'm paying for installation in neighborhoods where I don't and won't live.

Furthermore, Centurylink is apparently contracting with the Philipines for service by phone, and I have yet to connect with anyone by chat online. They are Comcast's evil twin in my opinion.

I can't see any reason why, for example, they are allowed to bump the charge for keeping my number unpublished from 75 cents/month to $2/month (down from the $5/month they originally said they were going to charge me). For that matter why charge at all? All I can figure out is that they are extorting us with the blessing of the UTC. I am guessing they are charging us what they would hope to garner by selling our information. And I suspect they are selling our info anyway. How else to explain the robo calls I receive every political season when I haven't provided my number to any political entity since the 80s.

Comcast, Centurylink--hate them both!

mspat

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 10:03 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm happy about this, but we'll never see our elected representatives grilling the head of a private ISP the way [Kshama Sawant recently did][1] to Seattle City Light's superintendent. I'd prefer my ISP's operations be subject to the Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act, and for their privacy policy to be vetted by my representatives.

[1]: http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2014/07/23/watch-sawant-sit-city-light-ceo-down-for-a-chat

pmocek

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 6:54 p.m. Inappropriate

pmocek:
Great comment and one more reason why a city-owned FTTP utility would be my preferred option.
-bill
P.S. Good article in the Seattle Times this morning!

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 10:10 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm also happy that we require private businesses to get approval of nearby property owners before using the public right-of-way for their private ventures.

Also, I notice that [SDOT Director's Rule 2-2009][1] does not restrict CenturyLink's ability to install their equipment on poles.

pmocek

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 6:55 p.m. Inappropriate

pmcoek:
Correct about the poles. CenturyLink owns or co-owns 100,000 poles in the City. There are limits as to the size of the boxes they can put on poles which are co-owned by Seattle City Light.
-bill

Posted Sat, Aug 9, 2:15 p.m. Inappropriate

CenturyLink is not a co-owner of the vast majority of the poles. The city owns them. The city leases the space on the poles to CenturyLink. Joint Use has various implementations, but ownership stays with the City where they paid for, install, and maintain the poles in the first place. The City has not sold the poles they own to anyone to my knowledge.

CenturyLink will buy, own, and maintain the cabinets. That is why they can claim they own that infrastructure to do with it as they wish, and not have to share it with anyone. And also not have to adjust their pricing to make it more affordable.

Marksp

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 11:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Having been victimized a couple of times by egregious Qwest customer service FUs, I would be extremely leery to see CenturyLink and Comcast continue their expensive duopoly in Seattle. These greedy corporations have set the bar so low it wouldn't take much for SPU to offer truly ultrafast speeds, lower prices and vastly better service.

Mud Baby

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 6:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Mud Baby:
About all I can say is that a duopoly is better than a monopoly. Agree with the comment about SPU and (maybe) City Light.
-bill

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 9 p.m. Inappropriate

Actually, a duopoly is worse than a monopoly, because a monopoly faces more political pressure. Each entity in a duopoly can claim that there's "competition." Comcast and CenturyLink are the answer to each others' prayers.

The "competition" issue was solved, so to speak, in the early '00s when the FCC approved a set of rules that effectively erased the unbundling and access rules contained in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

And that happened because, in the wake of the Telecom Act, the shysters of Silicon Valley teamed up with the shysters of Wall Street to float a whole series of "competitive" local exchange carriers that quite literally didn't know what they were doing, and wound up buying mountains of equipment from Cisco Systems that -- at the most basic level -- did not work.

When that equipment failed in use, and those "competitive" local carriers went bust (and Cisco was allowed to erase $2 billion in recorded "profits" without penalty of any kind), the FCC waded in and shitcanned the rules that had required the kind of access sharing that cracked AT&T;'s long-distance scam in the 1980s.

Everything since then has been a matter of re-establishing artificial bandwidth scarcity and pricing power in the backbone. You could have 40 local exchange entities, and at this point it wouldn't matter one single bit.

But hey, Bill, there might be a way for you to scam some bucks out of it, so really -- try for that municipal network here. Appeal to Seattle's belief in its mental superiority, and throw in the requisite buzzwords. I think you'd have a fighting chance. Make sure that you're a director, so you'll do well by doing good.

And in such an enterprise, it always helps to not really know what you're talking about. (It's a lot easier to disavow knowledge that you never had.) Which, from what I've seen, makes you very well qualified to cash in.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 9:33 p.m. Inappropriate

NotFan:
I'll ignore your "argumentum ad hominem" which is always a sign someone is losing an argument.
Rather than calling me names, why don't you advance positive ideas which address our City's dilemma of getting faster internet, better cable tv and lower prices?
At least Ed Murray is taking action, rather than just talking.
-bill

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 11:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Bill, I know what I'm talking about. You don't. That's why you have had a career in government. It's the catch basin. The stuff you write about broadband combines the typical elements of the Seattle "progressive" -- ignorant, shallow, and smug. Really, you need to figure out a way to cash in.

Yes, I'm insulting. But when you have the local equivalent of George W. Bush, who didn't know the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni, it's a little hard to do anything but fart in that general direction. I wasn't born with the "polite" gene, so you'll have to shoot me. The gun laws here are pretty loose, so you might even get away with it.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Aug 6, 10:43 p.m. Inappropriate

ibid. ;-}

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 5:02 p.m. Inappropriate

"Comparable" (in price to Google gigabit service in Kansas City) seems like an overstatement when Google's set price for internet only service is below the CenturyLink price that requires paying more for additional subscription to other bundled products.

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 6:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Question Mark:
I suspect Google subsidizes their Kansas City service from the tens of billions they make through their search engine. Don't know that for sure.
-bill

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 9:25 p.m. Inappropriate

It also helps Google that they completely scamm ... um, negotiated well ... with towns like The Dalles on the Columbia River for their electricity without having to give back anything more than a toenail clipping in return. Do no evil, baby.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 7:35 p.m. Inappropriate

The link to CenturyLink in the 10th graf doesn't work. Not a good sign.

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 9:38 p.m. Inappropriate

William_P_Barrett:
See my reply to the next comment.
-bill

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 7:55 p.m. Inappropriate

I would love for this to work but you have to wonder when you click on the "...about the service at this website." link and it returns...
"Oops, Let's Start Over & Try Again" when you try over again you get... "Oops, Let's Start Over & Try Again" when you try over again you get... "Oops, Let's Start Over & Try Again" when you try over again you get... "Oops, Let's Start Over & Try Again" when you try over again you get... "Oops, Let's Start Over & Try Again" when you try over again you get...
I seem like I'm repeating my self.

noblard

Posted Tue, Aug 5, 9:37 p.m. Inappropriate

noblard:
Yup, I got the same message.
Try: https://www.centurylink.com/fiber/
CenturyLink told me earlier today the website was crashing because so many people were clicking on the link, which is www.centurylink.com/gigabit.
-bill (

Posted Thu, Aug 7, 4:39 a.m. Inappropriate

Can the author please explain what residential homes do with high speed internet other than watch high-resolution TV & movies and play sophisticated interactive games and why these activities are of such importance that the city needs to get involved?

WSDW

Posted Thu, Aug 7, 7:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Exactly. We have Comcast, more than enough for 4 devices, all streaming TV at the same time.

But no, we have to spend $600 million on gub'ment bonds to create a state run behemoth, that can employ politicians' retarded nephews in a cushy union jobs.

No thanks.

Simon

Posted Thu, Aug 7, 7:53 a.m. Inappropriate

For me, it's more about competition than speed. Right now Centurylink provides 6Mb service for less cost than Comcast. But 6Mb isn't enough for HD streaming. Comcast, on the other hand, provides adequate streaming but the entry price is a whopping $100/month.

Once CL starts providing fiber service, I bet the price for a, say 20Gb service level will be substantially less than $100/month.

pragmatic

Posted Sun, Aug 10, 7:12 p.m. Inappropriate

They provide 6MB at some places, but only 1.5MB at many others.

Posted Sat, Aug 9, 2:24 p.m. Inappropriate

A lot of people refuse to acknowlege that point. For residental and small business use, 100MB is more than enough, now and in the future, for the vast majority of people. Gigabit is great, but not so great at the price points, and not absolutely necessary. Having a GB of bandwith also does not mean you get it as throughput, and remember throttling?

Most people don't even have close to 100MB now, over-priced shared and reduced throughput Comcast notwithstanding. 100MB is more than adequate for the vast majority of things you want to do now and in the forseable future. The trend is actually for apps and streaming to use LESS bandwith, not more. Having 100MB symmetrical would be a huge boon to everyone not affiliated with city government and the incumbents.

Marksp

Posted Fri, Aug 8, 2:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Wow, waht a puff piece for Centurylink.Such a simple fairy tale. centurylink, the white knight, is coming to liberate the bandwidth starved citizens of Salmonville, but the mayor and his evil, faceless minions and the Comcasat armies are throwing up roadblocks so they can continue to enslave the townsfolk for tehir own nefarious purposes. That tale may work with the children but grownups live in reality and the truth is that the auhtor makes many claims that are misleading or false. Crosscut readers deserve accurate information.

Mr. Schrier states that cable splits 50 - 100 megabit per second among 50 - 100 subscribers. that is patetntly false. he also suggests that a rule undergrounding boxes is unique in the world. jsut drive south on I-5 to Portland to see that is not true. He also says that prism cable tv requires fiber to the home. Again that is false. centurylink has been providing prism for years using its existing copper wire. Finally he asserts that seattle's CCBOR is unnique in the country. Wrong again. A simple Google search will reveal that many cities such as Washingotn DC and Denver have similar consumer protections. I can go on but crooscut or Mr. SChrier m,ight want to correct the record oif you value your cdredibility.

Posted Sat, Aug 9, 2:54 p.m. Inappropriate

An accurate reporting of the actual pricing is also needed here. According to Brier Dudley's blog:

"...CenturyLink will charge $110 per month for gigabit service for the first year, or $80 if bundled with a voice plan, DirectTV service or a Verizon wireless plan. There’s also a $60 installation fee, a $20 activation fee and a $7 per month modem fee. After the first year the standalone rate jumps to $152..."

Keep in mind, you don't get it for $80 if you don't pay more for the rest of the bundle required.

Marksp

Posted Tue, Aug 12, 2:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Although a step in the right direction, $152/month? That's crazy! We need Seattle to put the network together and "rent" it out to anyone wanting to service city residents! The "rent" would offset and pay for the network build out and would entice more people to call Seattle home. It could very well help reduce traffic as more people could actually work from home with a high-speed (competitively priced) connection!

Come on, Seattle - are we going to wait another 10 years to do something positive without raping the residents?

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