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Will Seattle Put Other Services At Risk To Build A Government Owned Network?

June 12, 2015

iStock_000006799258SmallSeattle is at a crossroads. As the Coalition for the New Economy reported previously, a government-commissioned study there revealed building a city-owned broadband network would cost up to $665 million. The report also outlined how difficult it would be for the network to make ends meet, much less make a profit.

In the wake of the report, advocates for government-owned networks have made it clear that cost, and the taxpayer risk and other funding priorities that would be put in jeopardy, is no worry for them.

Institute for Local Self-Reliance Director Community Broadband Networks Christopher Mitchell sounded less-than daunted by the fact that the network’s likely costs would put other important spending priorities such as public safety at risk. Mitchell told The Washington Post, “I think Seattle will continue with more incremental efforts …” (Mitchell’s organization is one of the chief cheerleaders for government-owned networks.)

Sabrina Roach, who is with a group called Upgrade Seattle that has advocated for a city network, told the Seattle Times she’s confident the city will eventually build a government system. She said, “[W]e still see city-owned and operated Internet utilities as inevitable. This study raises as many questions as it does answers. … We’ll be advocating at the local, state and federal level for creative ways to make broadband a utility.”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray also refused to fully shut the door on a government network. In a statement, he acknowledged the high costs, but said, “The municipal high-speed Internet study demonstrated there are limited potential options for building a municipal high-speed Internet utility, but we still have work to do to find a path forward that provides consumers with a good value while still covering the significant infrastructure costs. The City will continue work to identify potential business cases, joint ventures, and other funding sources for a high-speed Internet utility that achieves equity and value without risking the City’s general fund.”

Finally, there is the Seattle city council member who has urged “action” against private providers.

It’s clear from statements like hers that the goal for many municipal broadband proponents is a government broadband monopoly that will put taxpayers, public safety and education funding and consumers at risk.

Seattle is at a crossroads: how will the city council ultimately decide this issue?

Stay tuned.