Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Content tagged with "seattle"
The city of Seattle is looking to beef up its Information Technology department as it seeks to hire a Digital Equity Program & Broadband Manager.
The position will be a part of the city’s Client and Community Engagement Division and, according to the job posting, will play a central role in managing “digital inclusion planning and grants, broadband planning and advocacy, low-cost Internet program support, cable franchise administration, wireless affairs, and legislative advocacy for digital equity and telecommunication policy issues.”
Job responsibilities will also include “providing guidance to all levels of local government and public agencies, in partnership with community, on critical digital inclusion services for residents, and administration and enforcement of Seattle’s Cable Code.
Other key job responsibilities include:
Caroline Stratton, Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Florida, has published a new article looking at the digital equity plans of four major U.S. cities with the aim of seeing how policy makers understand the genesis of digital inequity in their cities and how they frame solutions for addressing it. She does so with the hopes of offering recommendations for other cities that will undertake these types of efforts in the near future. To do so, “Planning to Maintain the Status Quo? A Comparative Study of Digital Equity Plans of Four Large US Cities” looks at recent-ish plans published in Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, Kansas City, Missouri, and San Francisco, California.
The first third of the study includes a lot about meaning-making and the social construction of understandings of digital inequity that readers can skip without missing the bread and butter of the piece (which begins on page 51). After that, Stratton highlights a few important points that will be useful for cities embarking on digital equity work for the first time.
A Broken Marketplace Requires Community Solutions
First, she says, an understanding of digital inequity doesn’t offer much chance for change without being accompanied by a vision for solving it. Second, better city plans had larger and more inclusive coalitions from the outset, and were tapped into a variety of constituencies that represented a broader swath of lived experiences in these cities. Third, successful plans relied on the advice and participation of nonprofits, libraries, and other trusted community anchor institutions.
Importantly, Stratton shows that even though “ISPs’ profit-seeking motive may dictate why particular communities lack Internet service entirely, or service that is high-quality and affordable . . . they are spared scrutiny in plans” in many cases. More than 80 million Americans live in areas with a functional broadband monopoly.
The study also points to the reality that digital equity advocates have been describing for decades - that there are a host of other inequities that perpetuate the digital divide.
Seattle, Washington sits at the technology epicenter of the Pacific Northwest, and its residents have historically enjoyed better wireline Internet access options than many Americans across the country. A new report, Seattle Internet for All [pdf], provides a wealth of analysis which identifies those remaining in the city who struggle to get online. And while it outlines a detailed set of steps the city can do to reach the 5% or so of residents who report not having any subscription, most of them remain small, with no bold strategies offered to solve the connectivity gap once and for all.
The report comes as a result of the Internet for All Resolution passed by the city council in July in order to address digital divide amplified by the ongoing pandemic. While the city has been successful in increasing Internet access over the last five years, there are important income- and race-based gaps that still need to be fixed. Currently, the report says, 17,575 households with 37,365 residents sit on the other side of the adoption gap, and it concludes that the majority of the disparity is driven by affordability and a lack of digital skills.
Summary of Findings
The report argues that Seattle remains one of the most connected cities in the country, with 93% of the city having access to gigabit broadband from one or more Internet Service Providers (ISPs); according to the FCC Form 477 data (which itself overstates competition) that number sits at 75%, but in either case it's worth noting that for Comcast and Wave subscribers this will be asymmetric gigabit with far slower upload speeds.
I have been tracking from afar local grassroots efforts in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to start a municipal broadband network for years. I've visited them locally and spoken to various people from citizens to elected officials about the different options. The following are my observations. I'm not trying to channel their thoughts on how to move forward.
Cambridge is a high-tech city with nearly ubiquitous coverage from Comcast, delivering more or less the same services they offer to millions of homes — which is too say mostly reliable and high-cost Internet access (that will be still higher cost next year and the next after that). In the case of Comcast, it comes with crippled upload speeds compared to fast download capacity. Customer service is . . . well, you do your best to never have to use it.
But with MIT and Harvard within its confines, many in Cambridge are well aware that Internet access can get so much better and not be mediated by a company willing to spend millions in D.C. to preserve its right to set up tollbooths for certain kinds of content if they so choose.
However, Cambridge is remarkably similar to Palo Alto, which is also home to high tech households that mostly use Comcast cable and sometimes have the option of AT&T fiber. And in both instances, there is a strong case for some kind of municipal network that would create more local Internet choice. Both appear to have significant support in the community for a public option. But both also have city staff that have decided to prevent any meaningful investment.
They have run into the challenge that Seattle also wrestled with. These high profile cities have refused to consider creative, incremental, and targeted efforts. Instead, they have focused almost entirely on the costs of duplicating Chattanooga or Wilson, where the community built the entire citywide at once with debt-financed capital.
In Cambridge, the city council is rebelling after having been stymied by a city manager that has successful resisted efforts to study municipal broadband for years.
If everyone subscribed to Internet access, the business models for supplying it would be much easier. But there are strong reasons for why many are locked out of Internet access today, a subject we explore with National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer in episode 284 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
We discussed what digital inclusion is and what prevents people from subscribing to the Internet. There are no solutions to these problems from the federal or state levels - the most promising solutions are bubbling up from communities. Angela tells us how.
We also talk about the problems created by redlining - where ISPs like AT&T systematically refuse to invest in some neighborhoods for a variety of reasons. And toward the end we talk about network neutrality and its impact on the digital divide. If you want more Angela after you finish this interview, listen to her with Veronica Belmont from Mozilla's IRL podcast.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
December 8th Update: WOW! The latest campaign report discloses that Priorities First spent a total of $901,000 during this campaign. Congrats on overcoming that Goliath, Fort Collins!
Fort Collins Update: On November 3rd, Comcast's front group Priorities First filed their most recent campaign report. The report showed that the group spent and additional $256,326 on the Fort Collins campaign between October 23rd and November 1st. This brings big incumbent spending to stop compeition to almost half a million dollars.
As the company with one of the largest ISPs in the nation, Comcast Corporation makes daily investment decisions. They choose to put company funds into a variety of ventures, from theme parks to hair color; all that matters is that the investment pays off. This election season, Comcast is once again devoting funds to an investment it considers necessary - influencing elections in Seattle and Fort Collins, Colorado. We've prepared a policy brief to look deeper into Comcast's investment into the elections.
Download the brief here: Comcast Spends Big on Local Elections: Would Lose Millions in Revenue from Real Broadband Competition.
Comcast Spends Big on Local Elections: Would Lose Millions in Revenue from Real Broadband Competition
As the company with one of the largest ISPs in the nation, Comcast Corporation makes daily investment decisions. They choose to put company funds into a variety of ventures, from theme parks to hair color; all that matters is that the investment pays off. During the 2017 election season, Comcast once again devoted funds to an investment it considered necessary - influencing elections in Seattle and Fort Collins, Colorado. We prepared a policy brief to look deeper into Comcast's investment into the elections.
Download the brief here: Comcast Spends Big on Local Elections: Would Lose Millions in Revenue from Real Broadband Competition.
In Seattle, Comcast and CenturyLink donated $50,000 to a political action committee that supports a candidate opposed to publicly owned Internet infrastructure. This is only the latest attempt of the two national ISPs to influence the city’s mayoral elections; in 2013, they contributed similarly to Ed Murray, who went on to win the election. Murray was also opposed to the publicly owned option.
Community networks are hyper-local movements. As we have researched these networks, we have often uncovered the work of grassroots activists trying to make a difference in their cities. Today, we've gathered together a collection to show how small groups of local people can make a big difference.
Virginia Friends of Municipal Broadband -- This statewide organization of citizens and activists quickly formed in opposition to the proposed Broadband Deployment Act of 2017 in Virginia. They collected statements on why the proposed law would be sour for community networks and published a press kit to help people talk about the issue.
Yellow Springs Community Fiber -- This group formed in Yellow Springs, Ohio, to have the city consider building a community network. They hosted a public forum and created a survey to gauge residents' interest in such a project. They even published a white paper about their proposal, and the city issued an RFP to explore the option.
Upgrade Seattle -- This campaign for equitable Internet access encourages folks to support a municipal network in Washington state's largest city. The Upgrade Seattle group hosts neighborhood study sessions and encourages residents to learn more and attend city council meetings.
Holland Fiber -- Holland, Michigan, has been incrementally building a fiber network, and much of the impetus came from the Holland Fiber group. Local entrepreneurs, business owners, and residents realized that high-speed connectivity would be an asset to this lakeside tourist town.
Seattle is the latest local government taking steps to protect citizens’ data. As of May 24th, companies with franchise agreements allowing them to operate in the city must obtain customer permission to sell personal data or browsing histories.
The three companies operating in Seattle are Comcast, CenturyLink and Wave Broadband.
Opting In vs. Opting Out
In Seattle, the rule will require customers to opt-in to allow companies to collect and sell their data, unlike the usual situation - opting out to refrain.
“We felt that an opt-out process was insufficient,” said Michael Mattmiller, the city’s chief technology officer. “Consumers are too busy to somehow learn through the fine print that your web usage is being mined or sold.”
To remain in compliance with the new rule, companies must submit semi-annual reports.
State Efforts Uncertain
The state is still considering passing a similar bill but Seattle isn’t waiting for Olympia to act first. Minnesota’s privacy protection amendment was removed from the omnibus jobs bill in conference committee and faces an uncertain future; acting at the municipal level appears to be most likely to stick.
Tacoma's City Council passed a resolution in April to heighten personal data privacy on the publicly owned Click! network.
Read Seattle's new rule for Internet service providers here.
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.