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Why Did Seattle Reject Government-Owned Broadband?

February 22, 2016

Blue and red fibre optical cablesLast week, the Heartland Institute explored why Seattle, Wash. city council members last year rejected a plan to build a citywide, government-owned broadband system. (The council also rejected a plan to build a government network on a pilot basis – in just one neighborhood – a move that later could have allowed for expansion in other parts of the city.)

Why did one of the most tech-savvy cities in the country reject government-owned broadband? The Heartland Institute argued:

  • Government Broadband Is A Solution In Search Of A Problem. Erin Shannon from the Washington Policy Center’s Center for Small Business told the Heartland Institute that municipal broadband networks were unnecessary since the vast majority of Americans have access to broadband and because “entry-level prices in the U.S. broadband market are among the lowest in the world, and consumers enjoy more high-speed Internet technology choices than [people in] most other countries.”
  • There Are Better Options For Expanding Broadband Access – And Seattle Has Proved That. Seattle has cut regulatory barriers to private broadband investment over the last several years and, as a result, “private companies have increased broadband infrastructure investment.” Mercatus Institute Research Fellow Brent Skorup told the Heartland Institute breaking down existing barriers is key to generating more private sector investment. He said, “[M]any of the competition and affordability problems for Internet access today were created by government … We’re still living with some of the ill effects from the days of regulated telephone and cable monopolies.”
  • The Cost Of Government Broadband Is Too High. The Heartland Institute reminded readers that “Michael Mattmiller, the city’s chief technical officer and city budget Director Ben Noble urged the Seattle City Council to vote down the proposal in June 2015, after a feasibility study concluded the plan to create an Internet service provider would require the use of general revenues, reducing the amount of funds available for core functions, such as law enforcement and emergency services.”

Some Seattle policymakers aren’t giving up, however: City Council Member Kshama Sawant, who would prefer all technology companies be under government control, still wants the city to pursue municipal broadband. According to Utility Line, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray continues to oppose a municipal broadband plan in any form.