At a press briefing this morning, Mayor Ed Murray announced that private Internet service provider CenturyLink is launching a gigabit-speed fiber network in four Seattle neighborhoods (Beacon Hill, Ballard, the Central District, and West Seattle) next year.

The network, he said, will serve "tens of thousands of single-family residents" in those neighborhoods.

But the real news is this: Murray also said that to facilitate CenturyLink's expansion into other parts of the city, he plans to send legislation to the city council that would overturn the McGinn-era Seattle Department of Transportation rule allowing any land owner whose property abuts a city-owned site where the city wants to install a utility box linking up a broadband company's high-speed Internet services to veto the installaion.

CenturyLink's expansion could happen without Murray's proposal to change city rules (the company plans to use aerial boxes, not the ground-level boxes that are so controversial with single-family neighborhood residents), but changing the rule would certainly make it easier for CenturyLink, or another high-speed Internet provider, to operate in Seattle. 

The existing rule requires the agreement of all abutting property owners to approve the installation of a utility cabinet, and requires at least 60 percent of every land owner within 100 feet of the cabinet to sign off on its location. It led to the banning of more than 60 utility boxes between 2009 and 2001. 

Advocates for the rule said it helps limit graffiti (because all those blank surfaces are graffiti targets); opponents point to the dismally low levels of internet connectivity in parts of Seattle, which Murray, at a press conference this morning, called "one of the most wired cities in the world."  Centurylink's high-speed service would start at $79.99 a month for Internet service bundled with another Cenutrylink product, such as cable. 

Murray—who, along with city council tech committee head Bruce Harrell, has supported new rules making it possible for telecomm companies to put new cabinets in the public right-of-way—said that while "we have to be deliberate about working with the neighborhoods," the important thing is to ensure better, faster Internet access to neighborhood residents and businesses. 

Last year, then- mayor Mike McGinn handpicked an untested startup, Gigabit Squared, to receive city money to take advantage of the city's 500-plus miles of unused underground fiber-optic cable to provide fast Internet service to neighborhoods around the city. Gigabit subsequently flamed out after it failed to secure funding from investors, putting its plans on hold and ending up getting sued by the city for more than $50,000 in unpaid bills.

Ultimately, Murray pulled the plug on Gigabit, but he says he's still open to leasing out the city's dark fiber to a qualified company, or, if that doesn't "pencil out," to looking in to the possibility of a city-run broadband system. 


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