Seattle mulls its own series of tubes

by Peter Lewis, Crosscut

Prompted in part by broadband envy, Seattle is dusting off an idea that's been kicking around more than a decade – jumping into the Internet business.

The City Council recently authorized spending $185,000 to develop a request for proposals (RFP) aimed at attracting a partner to provide a fiber-to-the-premises network similar to what Verizon has done privately in some neighboring suburbs. The goal: affordable "true broadband connectivity for all Seattle residents by 2015," as envisioned three years ago by a city task force.

A fiber-optic broadband network with speeds of up to 100 mbps could reduce traffic congestion and air pollution by supporting telecommuting, increase citizen participation in government, let the city offer improved services, give people the means to communicate with friends and family in new ways, and otherwise enhance entertainment options, including two-way HDTV.

The idea is to offer residents and businesses the Holy Grail triple play – video, telephony, and Internet, the latter at speeds several times faster than Comcast's current residential rates – and charge them about 20 per cent less.

The city wants to ensure it's not left in the "dark ages," as one elected official put it, just as some Eastside suburbanites are slated to get a triple play — but not comparably reduced rates – via Verizon's FiOS fiber optic service network, an option unavailable to Qwest customers in Seattle. (Verizon spokesman Jon Davies said the company will launch triple-play service in Washington during the third quarter, but he could not say what it will charge; the price for high-end, triple-play service in California, with download speeds of 30 mbps and upload of 15 mbps, is $215 per month, he said.)

It remains an open question whether Seattle can induce anyone to step up and build a comparable network, at an estimated cost of $450 million.

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