Mayor Mike McGinn has won political points in the final days of the mayoral campaign from a Washington Post story about contributions from Comcast to his opponent, Ed Murray; the Internet company gave $700 to Murray and almost $10,000 to two pro-Murray independent expenditure groups.
The story, which quotes McGinn and two of his supporters but includes just one anonymous quote from a Murray spokesman (his name is Sandeep Kaushik), asserts that Comcast's contributions have contributed to Murray's "limited enthusiasm" for a public-private partnership with startup Gigabit Squared to provide high-speed broadband to 14 neighborhoods in Seattle. (Last year, McGinn announced a deal to lease unused dark fiber to the company, which will provide Internet service at speeds up to 100 times faster than conventional broadband. We reported on Murray's Comcast contributions and the Gigabit context earlier this year here).
In a glowing followup interview with McGinn today, the same Post reporter lobbed such softballs as "Who is your current Internet provider?" and "Could you go into more detail about how important you believe high speeds are for the innovation economy in Seattle?"
Kaushik tells PubliCola he reached out to the Post to ask for a clarification or correction to their initial story—"I pointed out to them that they could have asked, rather than making assumptions"—but "they refused."
Murray, not surprisingly, disagrees. "Money has never influenced me," he told me today. "You saw me go after Microsoft," which pulled its support for Murray's gay-rights bill in 2005, "and they've given me money in the past. I didn’t hesitate to oppose them on gay marriage, either.""I don’t know what Senator Murray will do [about the Gigabit proposal], but what I do know is that people whose businesses would be challenged by a potential competitor are supporting him."–Mayor Mike McGinn
In a statement today, Kaushik said, "Ed does support the City's current efforts with Gigabit Squared to create a high speed broadband network. Unfortunately, the article then goes on to speculate that Ed might decide in the future not to support an expansion of the current City plan (to provide service in 14 neighborhoods). That speculation is simply wrong. Ed thinks competition is a good thing, and supports the creation of a citywide high speed broadband network."
The Post story was a score for McGinn. In addition to links on big tech blogs like Ars Technica and TechCrunch, the story was briefly the top post on Reddit. However, the story's prominence may have also called attention to the shortcomings of McGinn's broadband gambit.
"If [Gigabit] has a model that can be expanded that's working, we should expand it and make it work." If not, Murray said, "I support competition." The real problem, Murray charges, is that "McGinn said he would deliver four years ago"—when he vowed to implement universal broadband during his first term—"and he hasn't.""McGinn said he would deliver [on broadband] four years ago, and he hasn't."–McGinn challenger and state Sen. Ed Murray
City Council member (and Murray supporter) Bruce Harrell, who chairs the public safety and technology committee, told PubliCola that his issue with the Gigabit proposal is that it hasn't materialized. "McGinn has not delivered on his promise to develop a city-wide broadband system. ... The company McGinn’s office vetted was supposed to start service this fall but has been pushed back to next year. I would like the company to build more in underserved neighborhoods but they have not (only two small pockets in the south end)."
One potential competitor is Centurylink, which has been trying—with the support of a Beacon Hill-based group called Upping Technology to Underserved Neighbors, or UPTUN—to get the Seattle Department of Transportation to change a rule that gives any property owner within 100 feet the right to veto the installation of the utility boxes that link up Centurylink's high-speed networks. UPTUN says it has been trying for four years to get the rule changed, with no success.
This may seem like a tempest in a teapot compared to major issues like the city's crumbling transportation infrastructure, police accountability, or housing affordability—and it is. But it's also an issue that's been hotly debated since McGinn was elected—on a platform, it should be noted, that included municipally funded broadband for every resident of the city, not privately provided service for a handful of neighborhoods.