Seattle Puts Muni Broadband In Its Master Plan

Seattle hasn’t given up the possibility of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity for all.

The city has long struggled with how to improve Internet access for residents and businesses. They commissioned a feasibility study in 2015 to learn more about the cost and potential for a citywide broadband utility, but the hefty estimated cost - $480 million to $665 million - subdued the conversation. The City Council, however, is taking steps to ensure the city doesn’t lose site of the idea of Internet access as a utility.

Keeping The Dream Alive

Council Member Rob Johnson introduced an amendment to the Mayor’s Comprehensive Master Plan to keep the concept of ubiquitous high-quality connectivity in the city’s future. Johnson’s amendment, which passed at a September City Council meeting, added Municipal Broadband to the list of potential future discretionary projects in the Mayor’s Comprehensive Master Plan. The plan addresses the city’s long-term growth vision. 

The fiscal analysis, or Green Sheet, puts the price tag at $303,000 in 2017 and $137,000 in 2018. The funding would cover the cost of a full-time staff person in the city’s IT department and the cost to develop a business plan for a city-owned municipal broadband utility. The funding did not make it into the final budget, but with municipal broadband in the Master Plan, a future budget may see the addition.

Christopher has visited Seattle to talk munis with the Seattle Citizens' Telecommunications and Technology Advisory Board and local reporters consulted with him on the results of the 2015 feasibility study. The interest in a community network has been there for some time, but deploying a community network in a large city has special challenges that have complicated and slowed Seattle's efforts. Nevertheless, they press on.

Upgrade Seattle

Upgrade Seattle, the grassroots citizens group that has been organizing the drive to improve connectivity in Seattle, can take credit for keeping ubiquitous high-quality Internet access for all in the city’s conscious. The group has called out Comcast for its poor local customer service, pointing out that the provider won’t even attempt to serve the entire city. Upgrade Seattle helps us connect the dots between social justice and Internet access.

The group has organized a number of events, including the October Slow Walk, to protest the slow speeds from incumbent Comcast. People come to City Council meetings to share they thoughts on connectivity and poor service from Comcast, thanks to Upgrade Seattle.

Watch the video of the group's Slow Walk as they present a "Municipal Broadband Champion" award to Council Members Kshama Sawant, who was instrumental in forwarding the amendment and has been deeply involved in efforts to create a municipal broadband utility. Council Member Rob Johnson also received the award from the group.