City of Edmonds moving ahead with municipal broadband plans. What's Seattle doing?

Good news from our neighbor to the north, Edmonds, WA:

Edmonds Council votes to pursue customers for its broadband business

The Edmonds City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night to support efforts to pursue customers for the city’s 24 strands of fiber optic cable, which so far have been largely unused by anyone other than the city itself [...] Efforts so far to market [the city's] broadband have been stymied by a poor economy and a year-long delay while the city successfully went to court to secure the right to sell broadband services to private entities. [...]

While the city has spent $492,000 to activate the broadband network, it is saving approximately $97,000 annually because it doesn’t have to purchase fiber optic services, and is expected to recoup its investment by 2015.

Full article in MyEdmondsNews here, with useful background here.

This is great news for folks in Edmonds, who by and large already enjoy better Internet connectivity than most people in Seattle, with fiber broadband offered by Frontier (formerly Verizon); now there will be a locally, municipally owned alternative. The resulting competition should benefit customers in pricing and service.

Meanwhile, Seattle's broadband future remains mired in inertia, despite the city's technology office having a remarkably clear vision for pursuing a municipal fiber system of our own, and despite Mayor McGinn campaigning on the issue.

Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the City Council's Energy and Technology Committee, is aware of the benefits of a municipal fiber system, which would drive prices down, increase available speeds, and for the first time would equalize access for homes, businesses and institutions across all neighborhoods. He's also aware that the city has spent years studying potential municipal fiber plans, and the best estimates show that the city would safely recoup an initial bond investment.

On the other hand, Harrell has seemed reluctant to push the city forward towards a citywide fiber-to-the-home network, without studying further the possiblity of enticing private companies to offer better service--an issue which arguably the city has already studied to death. Harrell detailed his views in a March position paper.

With the city facing both huge revenue shortfalls and major transportation projects, the political prospects may seem dim for prioritizing municipal broadband. But Seattle should be inspired by what's going on in Edmonds and ask whether our city shouldn't make the same investment in our own infrastructure--and enjoy the same benefits of job creation, equality of access, broader civic engagement. Municipal fiber can and should make our city an easier and happier place for businesses, organizations, schools, artists and families to live and work online.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey