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Seattle Mayoral Candidates Discuss Municipal Broadband

July 26, 2017

Twenty-one individuals currently are vying to be Seattle’s next mayor. The primary election is August 1 and in advance of that, GeekWire submitted six questions to each candidate, including one asking whether the candidates would try to build a municipal network if elected. Only 12 individuals answered GeekWire and, of those, only four seemed to support municipal broadband without reservation.

Candidate Gary Brose said providing broadband is not a job for city government. He argued that “market forces and individual company innovation in providing low-cost service will be far better than the city trying to control or compete with private enterprise.” Brose also said the “city needs to stick to its core competencies.” Casey Carlisle agreed. He noted, “We have multiple internet service providers (ISPs) in Seattle.” Carlisle also argued that residents shouldn’t have to pay for broadband twice, once through higher taxes and then the second time through monthly fees for the service. Another candidate, Greg Hamilton, simply said he didn’t “see how involving the city in providing broadband will provide any benefit.”

Several candidates said they might be convinced to support municipal broadband, but also expressed deep reservations. For example, candidate Jenny Durkan said she has “concerns about the cost … especially as it relates to other priorities such as homelessness and affordable housing.” Harley Lever said, “Seattle cannot run a bike share program, so I fear they would not be able to successfully run a publicly-owned internet.” He said the city should partner with nonprofit or “consider accepting tax breaks or subsidies to develop a win-win publicly-owned internet service.” Candidate Jason Roberts noted the city has “zero infrastructure in place” and that “the cost is going to be a major hurdle.”

At the very least, said candidate James Norton, Jr., the city would need to do “a lot more research” and then must allow residents vote on the idea.

That research already has been conducted, however. Coalition for the New Economy readers will remember that Seattle has studied—and rejected—the idea of building a city-owned and taxpayer-financed Internet Service Provider multiple times. According to a 2015 study, it could cost the city up to $665 million to build a municipal ISP. At that time, current Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said construction would require “the largest tax increase in Seattle” history.

Taxpayers will want to pay attention this issue as Seattle’s election unfolds.