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Booting Up. McGinn and Broadband.
[Editor's Note: We originally published Glenn's article yesterday, and as usual, Glenn—aka PubliCola's TechNerd—is great at explaining all this stuff. We're moving the post up because it's worth keeping in play today.]
People served least-well by broadband in Seattle will take heart from Mike McGinn's election as mayor. McGinn had high-speed, fiber-to-the-home Internet access—based on a plan developed earlier by the city—as one of his early campaign planks. The under-served include ethnic and racial minorities, as well as those who earn well below the Seattle median income, according to a report just released by the city. McGinn has said he wants everyone to have access to the 21st Century economy.
McGinn's plan was developed in part by Bill Schrier, Seattle's current chief technology officer. I interviewed McGinn about his broadband ambitions during the campaign, and Schrier shortly after. Schrier is passionate about having super-high-speed fiber optic triple play: 100 Mbps symmetrical Internet service, television including high-definition, and unlimited voice calling. In South Korea, you can get 100 Mbps both ways for US$14/month.
Schrier serves at the pleasure of the mayor, and McGinn likes what Schrier has to say. Thus the right people are in place to make a fiber-to-the-home plan happen.
This is because Schrier seems to run on the same operating system as McGinn.
Schrier’s office put some good combustibles on that fire with the release on Tuesday—nicely timed after the election—of the Information Technology Access and Adoption in Seattle report for 2009. The painstakingly collected information, gathered from over 1,000 surveys, weighted to include more ethnic minorities, especially Hispanic households. (Interestingly, no cell-only households were called, which represents an undersampling of a key and increasing demographic. A focus group was used to better understand cell-only homes, which included three-quarters of graduate student households.)
Similar surveys were conducted in 2000 and 2004, providing some great longitudinal comparisons. You can read an executive summary, a longer analysis designed for a general audience, and a technical report that drills into the survey at great length.
The key takeaways are that 84 percent of households have Internet access and 88 percent have computers, while 74 percent of those with Internet access have broadband (as opposed to dial up). These figures, the report notes, are above the averages gathered earlier this year by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. (Pew has been working longitudinally on the same kinds of questions for several years now.)
And, of course, ethnic minorities and those making less than $30,000 have substantially less computer ownership, in-home Internet, and computer experience. The report says 44.6 percent of Latino/Hispanic households and 66.6 percent of African American households have any Internet acess at home (dial up or broadband); for Caucasians, the access rate is 90 percent.
Also interesting is that while many Seattelites have broadband, “Three-fourths of those surveyed said that significantly faster Internet access would be somewhat or very valuable.” Ninety percent of households said Internet service is “very important” or “somewhat important” for all households to have Internet access (not just their own).
Finally, on the telecommuting front, the survey found that out of computer users who have a paying job, 66 percent use the Internet to work for home, whether for themselves or for an employer. 85 percent of telecommuters say “that significantly faster Internet access would be valuable.”
I’ve written before here about Beacon Hill and the Central District, the neighborhoods that seem to be worst served by broadband service from Qwest and Broadstripe. Broadstripe didn’t respond to a request for an interview I made about its service; the firm is currently in bankruptcy for financial reorganization. I have so far been unable to get an FCC spokesperson to explain in depth the complaint process to Broadstripe and Qwest broadband problems in those districts. (You can file a complaint at the FCC’s Web site, but I want to know what happens with those complaints.)
The city’s report on the cable TV side found that Comcast, which has 89 percent of Seattle’s cable subscribers, received an 89 percent “very satisfied” rate for the company’s customer service, up from 79 percent in 2004. Broadstripe went from 80 percent to 48 percent over that same period. This doesn’t cover broadband service, but it’s a telling fact since the same wire feeds both TV and Internet. Comcast’s territory is about 90 perecent of Seattle households; Broadstripe holds the rest.
When I spoke to Bill Schrier, he expressed frustration both at the poor availability of broadband and other services to Beacon Hill et al., and the lack of interest by incumbents in improving said services.
With McGinn as mayor, Schrier may get a quick go-ahead. And, as I reported earlier, it’s quite likely that Beacon Hill would be for all the reasons cited above the test bed for a new network.
File Under: News
- The Trouble With Shaken Baby Syndrome
- Downtown's New Elysian Bar Sounds Pretty Damn Great
- Senator Tom Will Not Run for Reelection
- Flour to the People
- This Week in Restaurant News: Expansions, Cocktails, and Fried Chicken
- Morning Fizz: Brawl Averted, Money Not Diverted
- 30 Perfect Day Trips
- A Critic’s Guide to Seattle Restaurant Week 2014
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