Seattle is Committed to Preserving Net Neutrality

Jim Loter is the Director of Digital Engagement for the City of Seattle

On February 20th I was honored to have the opportunity to testify before the Washington State Senate Energy, Environment, and Technology Committee about the importance of net neutrality to the consumers of Seattle. I made the point that net neutrality was essential to achieving the digital equity and inclusion goals of the City of Seattle. Loss of net neutrality protections, I argued, would adversely affect lower income residents and business owners who cannot afford to pay higher rates simply to access certain sites, content, or services.

You can watch the full testimony here.

I was overjoyed when, 2 weeks later, Governor Jay Inslee signed House Bill 2282 to protect net neutrality rules at the state level and ensure that internet providers cannot manipulate internet speeds and access to content. The Washington Open Internet Law law was the first of its kind in the nation. The law will prohibit companies that offer internet services from blocking legal content and applications; it will prohibit them from throttling internet traffic; and it will prohibit them from prioritizing certain traffic in exchange for payment (“paid prioritization”). The law also requires internet providers to disclose to their customers information about network management practices, performance, and terms. The law goes into effect on June 6th.

At the national level. the US Senate is moving to a vote later this month that could block the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. Today – Wednesday, May 9th – marks the start of a national “Red Alert” campaign on net neutrality. Many popular web sites will be displaying information designed to raise awareness and urge elected officials to vote to overturn the FCC’s decision. You can read more the Red Alert at and find out how to contact your elected officials about this upcoming vote.

Given that this week is also Digital Inclusion Week, it is especially important to remember that the loss of net neutrality is most detrimental to those who are already underserved by technology. Net neutrality is a critical component in ensuring that the most vulnerable populations have access to the information and services they need to fully participate in their community and in civic life. Here in Seattle, our commitment to digital inclusion via our Digital Equity Initiative and our commitment to preserving net neutrality go hand-in-hand. Help us by speaking up and by contacting your elected officials in DC about this important issue.

Seattle IT Broadband Privacy Directors Rule Q&A

Today, the City of Seattle issued Seattle IT rule 2017-01 requiring the City’s key internet service providers to obtain permission from their customers before selling web browsing history and personally identifiable information at a detailed or aggregate level. This rule reinstates a key consumer privacy protection eliminated by the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration last month.

What does this rule do?

The City of Seattle Information Technology Department (ITD) Director’s Rule 2017-01 requires cable companies that offer an internet service to obtain permission before sharing a customer’s web browsing activity or other internet usage history. Cable operators must attest to compliance with this rule by September 30, 2017, and annually thereafter.

Why is the City of Seattle issuing this rule?

Mayor Murray believes protecting the privacy of internet users is essential to a free and open society. In April 2017 the Trump administration repealed rules issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would have would have banned internet service providers from sharing or selling certain types of customer information without user consent. Because of this repeal at the national level, the City is using powers at its disposal to implement a similar rule and protect the rights of our public.

Does the City have the authority to regulate the privacy of broadband internet service customers?

Seattle Municipal Code SMC 21.60 (“Cable Code”) provides the regulatory framework under which cable operators may operate in the City of Seattle. In 2002, the City enacted privacy protections codified at SMC 21.60.825 to address concerns that advances in technology would greatly increase the capabilities of Cable Operators to collect, use and disclose their customer’s personally identifiable information without the customer’s permission. These privacy protections prohibit cable operators from collecting or disclosing any information regarding a customer’s use of a non-cable service, such as internet use, without the prior affirmative consent of the customer.

The City’s privacy law is in all respects consistent with 47 U.S.C. § 551 and designed to ensure cable operator compliance with local and Federal law.

Which internet service providers are subject to this rule?

Cable operators franchised by the City of Seattle who provide an internet service are subject to this rule. As of May 3, 2017, this includes Comcast, CenturyLink, and Wave Broadband.

What internet service providers are not covered by this rule?

Internet service providers operating in the City of Seattle that do not have a cable franchise agreement are not subject to this rule. Wireless internet providers, such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon are not subject to this rule.

While this rule limits how internet service providers may use a customer’s web browsing activity or other internet usage history, it does not limit the ability of websites or other companies offering online services from tracking a user’s activity.

What protections does the City provide to cable customers?

Since 1999, the City of Seattle’s “Cable Customer Bill of Rights” has provided the public with strong protections to ensure competent, responsive service from cable operators. The Rights were modified in 2002 and 2015 to add privacy protections to address concerns that advances in technology would greatly increase the capabilities of cable operators to collect, use and disclose their customer’s information without the customer’s permission. Learn more about the Rights and how to report a comment or complaint by visiting




Seattle issues rule to strengthen broadband privacy for consumers

Notice of City of Seattle Information Technology Department Director’s Rule 2017-01.

Seattle Information Technology Department (ITD) is establishing ITD Director’s Rule 2017-01. This Rule applies to cable operators franchised to provide cable service in the City of Seattle.

ITD Director’s Rule 2017-01 provides procedures that Seattle Information Technology Department’s Office of Cable Communications (OCC) will implement to determine whether a franchised cable operator is in compliance with the privacy requirements of SMC 21.60.825. The Rule requires Cable Operators to obtain opt-in consent before sharing a customer’s web browsing history or otherwise use such information unless it is necessary to render a service ordered by the customer or pursuant to a subpoena or valid court order authorizing disclosure, or to a governmental entity. Cable operators must attest to compliance with this rule by September 30, 2017, and annually thereafter. Read ITD Director’s Rule 2017-01 at

Any persons interested in presenting data, views, or arguments regarding this proposed new Director’s Rule may submit information or contact the Office of Cable Communications by email or call 206-684-5957.




New Report Discusses Approaches for Increasing Public Wi-Fi Service in Seattle

In 2016 the City of Seattle commissioned a report to identify areas where publicly-accessible Wi-Fi can have a meaningful impact in Seattle and to identify potential funding sources, business models, and partners to expand the availability of public Wi-Fi services, especially as a means to address Seattle’s digital equity and digital inclusion needs.

As part of this work, the City also released a Request For Information (RFI) to gather information and ideas from service providers and other vendors.

The resulting study, completed in February 2017, has indicated that there is a great deal of interest in accessing City fiber, real estate, right-of-way, and other assets for the purposes of providing Wi-Fi but that the City needs to determine the appropriate value of these assets.

The study also found that there are opportunities for increasing public Wi-Fi at low or no cost to the City through models that are supported by advertising and other revenue-generating models, but that the City needs to examine the public policy implications of these models and engage the community to determine how these approaches would work in Seattle.

The work to determine the areas of greatest impact in Seattle and the most appropriate and effective business models will continue throughout 2017.

Read the Wi-Fi report here [PDF; 3 MB]

Expanded wi-fi now available at 26 Seattle Community Centers

The City of Seattle has completed upgrading public wi-fi equipment at 26 Seattle Parks and Recreation Community Centers, and it’s already helping thousands of users. The increased access points were installed as part of the City’s Digital Equity Action Plan with support from Google. The City has seen wi-fi usage more than double in the past year with this addition of more and higher quality access points. Over 16,000 devices (16,166) connected in November, up from 7441 in November, 2015. The public wi-fi spots are especially valuable for low-income families who have no internet at home or are on limited data plans, and the homeless, who rely on wi-fi as a lifeline to look for work, complete homework, access health information, or stay in touch with family.

The community center upgrade project also enhanced capacity for digital literacy programming by replacing 49 computers in Community Center technology labs that provide public access and training at Delridge, Rainier, Rainier Beach, South Park and Yesler.

These improvements help ensure digital equity and opportunity in lower income neighborhoods. The robust upgrade expanded coverage so that users can connect in lobbies as well as in meeting and activity rooms at the community centers. The wi-fi expansion has been a classic case of If you build it, they will come. User rates have skyrocketed at several of the sites.  Danisha, a parent at Rainier Beach Community Center reports: “Not only do I get to watch my kids play basketball at the gym, I can now get online for social networking and check my work email.”

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of participants that come into the center just to use the wi-fi which, in turn, leads to conversations about what’s offered at the Jefferson Community Center,” said Doreen Deaver, Recreation Coordinator at the Jefferson Community Center.  “Overall, it has been very good for interest in our programs.”

Installation of the expanded service was led by Seattle Information Technology, the Associated Recreation Council, and Seattle Parks and Recreation. The system is using Cisco Meraki devices, with internet service currently provided in most sites by Comcast and by Wave Broadband in their service area. The expanded wi-fi provides another opportunity for users to connect to, use the wi-fi for civic participation, or get online to sign up for programs at the Community Centers.  For those without devices, the community centers also offer public internet kiosk computers.