For a city that has so many tech workers at local Amazon, Google, Adobe and startup offices, one would think that there would be a bigger outcry among the citizenry for better and cheaper Internet connectivity.
While many neighborhoods have had varying levels of success with residential Internet connectivity on an hourly basis, high-speed Internet access hasn’t measured as a relevant political topic among constituents.
Still, it’s become an issue for Seattle since Mayor Ed Murray touted the need for better and cheaper Internet options amid the weightier, ongoing issues surrounding the Seattle Police Department and the proposed $15 minimum wage. He even made affordable, high-quality, full broadband one of his mayoral campaign platforms, promising to help build a city-owned network if need be, and he intends to hire a permanent chief technology officer in the near future.
This despite Comcast, CenturyLink and the state broadband-providers association being among his major campaign contributors.
Comcast, which has fully owned NBCUniversal since March 2013 and is aiming to take over Time Warner Cable within the year, has monopolized Seattle’s broadband service for years with mixed — and very expensive — results. With Comcast’s franchise agreement ending in mid-January 2016, CenturyLink is hoping to take its place in the Seattle market.
Murray is surprisingly opening doors to see if CenturyLink can succeed by proposing to relax a city rule requiring phone companies to get homeowners’ approval before installing service cabinets between homes and the street, in exchange for “significant improvements” in service, according to Brier Dudley’s Blog in The Seattle Times — Murray’s commitment to a public broadband network notwithstanding.
The city’s approach to solving this problem is similar to its strategy for its transportation gridlock: throw a possible solution against the wall and see if it sticks. If Murray is to make full broadband a political issue, he needs to be uncompromising with broadband providers who will potentially monopolize the local market. Giving leeway to these companies offers no incentive for them to improve their rates and access when profits are guaranteed at current service levels — especially if Internet users can still go to the library to access it.
A public broadband network may be the key to our city’s Internet connectivity, but that would present another catch: Much like Seattle City Light controls our rates for electricity, the city would also command the rates for Internet access.
If there is anything to be learned from the Internet, it’s that having access to unlimited information is priceless — and we’ll pay high prices for it, no matter who provides it.