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Seattle Exploring Non-GON Ways to Address Adoption Gap

January 21, 2016

space-needleLast week Governing magazine’s Tod Newcombe delved into broadband adoption rates in tech-savvy Seattle. Newcombe said that, while 85 percent of Emerald City residents have adopted broadband (a rate much higher than the national average of 75 percent), the adoption rate had reached a plateau. Newcombe reported, “[C]ity officials are trying to understand why” more residents don’t want to get online.

The article notes that Seattle officials dismissed the idea of building a citywide government-owned broadband network as the solution to its adoption issues. That call was wise. As a reminder, and as the Coalition for the New Economy in September, city officials dismissed the idea because they thought government-owned network (GON) was too costly. In a study released in June 2015, the city reported a GON would cost between $480 million to $665 million, a sum that equaled about $725 to $1,004 for each of the city’s 662,400 residents. That figure is high enough, but remember 85 percent of those residents already have broadband. For each resident who had not yet adopted broadband, the total cost would be between $4,831 and $6,693.

There must be a better, less costly way, to bring more Emerald City residents online.

Thankfully, readers in Seattle seem to agree. According to Newcombe, the city “looked at” how it regulates “the cable TV companies that have become the primary providers of broadband” and decided to change “its code to make it easier for other companies to enter the market and hopefully bring down prices.” According to Governing, companies have expanded service to tens of thousands of new homes since that decision. Newcombe also reports officials “convinced Comcast to increase the number of people eligible for its discounted Internet service by expanding it from just low-income households with children to low-income seniors” and that the city is “working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to accelerate adoption for families living in subsidized housing” and will use “$470,000 in grants to educate and train nonusers about the value of the Internet.”

Finally, the city is trying to gather more data about why 15 percent of Seattle residents still aren’t online. Chief Information Officer Michael Mattmiller told Newcombe, “We need more data to quantify and understand the challenges to prioritize how to close the adoption gap.”

There are no easy solutions to bridging the gap between broadband adoption and broadband access (more than 98 percent of Americans have access to broadband while only 75 percent have adopted) it, but Seattle’s experience tells us GONs are not the solution.