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In Case You Missed It: Seattle Cools Its Flirtation With Municipal Broadband

September 10, 2015

small 1Over the summer, we noticed several news stories that reported cities, counties and states across the country are considering whether to get into the broadband market. It was clear: the municipal broadband issue was heating up. Perhaps the biggest story, though, came from a city that has studied the possibility of a government-owned broadband network at least three times – and found the idea extremely costly each time.

We’re talking about Seattle, Wash. whose long-time flirtation with government-owned broadband actually started to wane just as summer heated up. In case you missed it while on vacation:

  • In May, the Seattle city council heard arguments in favor of a government-owned broadband network.
  • In June, city officials released a study that found a government-owned broadband network (GON) would cost Seattle between $480 million and $665 million to build. The study also found it would be extremely difficult for the system to make money.
  • We noted that report said the city would be putting other services at risk in order to build a GON – including fighting it’s homelessness problem.
  • Then, later in June, we noted at least one candidate for city council wasn’t swayed by the report – and in fact want to take over all broadband service in the city, shutting private job creators out of the market.
  • Also in June, a pro-GON advocacy group suggested that, if Seattle just narrowed its focus, everything would be fine.

Seattle officials are still considering how they will move forward. If they’re interested in hearing more about why GONs are a bad idea, they should ask taxpayers in Tacoma, Wash. who are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars on their GON, or in Chattanooga, Tenn. where the city is taking on more debt for its GON, or the consultant to Hillsboro, Ore. who advised that city against getting into the market. If that’s not enough, ask Colorado’s Eagle-Net, which is facing a lawsuit, or Moody’s Investors Service, which said “nonessential” services like government broadband threaten cities’ other spending priorities.

Hopefully those stories are enough to cool local and state governments’ summer flirtation with government-owned broadband as we head into fall.