Murray: ‘Seattle must be a national leader in identifying innovative ways to make high speed internet available and affordable to anyone’

Mayor Murray released this statement today on the need for more reliable high speed internet for all in Seattle:

Finding a job, getting a competitive education, participating in our democracy, or even going to work for some, requires high speed internet access. I have seen people say online, “I don’t need a road to get to work, I need high speed internet.” Seattle would never leave the construction of roads up to a private monopoly, nor should we allow the City’s internet access to be constructed and managed by a private monopoly.

It is incredibly clear to me and  residents throughout the City of Seattle, that the City’s current high speed internet options are not dependable enough, are cost prohibitive for many, and have few (if any) competitive options.

As the internet becomes more and more important to everyday life, I believe Seattle must be a national leader in identifying innovative ways to make high speed internet available and affordable to anyone who wants it.

Seattle needs a high speed internet infrastructure that meets the demands of our high tech industry and which allows our citizens to innovate without worrying about whether their connection will suddenly drop because their service provider has decided to throttle a service they depend on. We need an internet that does not censor communication, but fosters access to the content citizens depend on for information or civic engagement. We need a service provider that can do all of this with strict privacy controls so that free speech is encouraged, not stifled. In short, we need a high speed internet option that rivals any in the country.

My office is actively engaged in finding a path forward. We certainly need some short term options to bring a functional internet to neighborhoods that have almost no connectivity, and we’re looking at ways to bring service to those neighborhoods as soon as possible. We are looking at a number of policy changes and their impacts that could foster greater competition right now, like testing small neighborhood pilot programs, building off existing fiber, or increasing WiFi access.

We are also considering changes to the SDOT “director’s rule” which makes it nearly impossible for internet providers to expand existing services without an unusually high super majority of support from neighbors. Few other cities in the country demand this kind of approval system, which is in part why service providers are investing in those cities and not here in Seattle. If we determine that changing the “director’s rule” helps achieve our goal of increasing internet speeds and making Seattle a more competitive market for internet providers, my office would then explore developing a more efficient process for community input around how and when utility cabinets are placed in our neighborhoods.

Another possible solution includes granting internet companies access to utility poles at little or no charge, so that building more infrastructure is not cost prohibitive. As Susan Crawford highlighted in her Special to the Seattle Times, we need to find ways to expand our dark fiber network so every building in the City is connected. We need to ensure that this network stays under the City’s control while exploring ways to rent it at a low cost to service providers. But if we make changes that lower the costs for businesses, these changes would need to come paired with significant improvements in services. I will not be satisfied if these changes simply bring marginal improvements for customers and higher profits for corporations.

While we increase competition by breaking down barriers and enhancing infrastructure, we also need to consider the option of building a city-wide municipal high speed internet system that meets the demands of this thriving technology hub. We may learn that the only way we can truly have the internet system this City needs, is by building it ourselves. If we find that building our own municipal broadband is the best way forward for our citizens and for our City, then I will help lead the way.

It is shocking to me that the United States invented the internet, but we have one of the biggest digital divides in the developed world, and are falling far behind other nations who have speeds much greater than ours. We need to find a path forward as quickly and efficiently as possible before we fall even further behind. Our economy depends on it. Our democracy depends on it.

I look forward to appointing a permanent Chief Technology Officer in the near future and working with him or her to secure Seattle’s position as a leader in technology once again.