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  • ROBERT ULLMAN

Shortly after taking office, Mayor Ed Murray finally pulled the plug on Gigabit Seattle, the financially challenged fiber- optic-broadband partnership that was once the centerpiece of his predecessor's internet strategy. But while Gigabit's failure was certainly a disappointment, it is also an opportunity: to give a giant collective municipal finger to those monopolistic fuckers at Comcast, CenturyLink, and Wave.

Now that the market has failed to address our broadband woes, Seattle is free to reconsider building a city-owned municipal system. And with Seattle City Light in the process of evaluating technologies for its coming "smart meter" rollout, the timing couldn't be more perfect.

Under its current six-year strategic plan, City Light is planning to replace about 410,000 manually read meters with new digital smart meters (City Light prefers the term "AMI," or "Advanced Metering Infrastructure"). These smart meters would communicate remotely with City Light, allowing for instant meter reading, more flexible billing, customer tracking of power usage, and faster and more efficient responsiveness to power outages. Installations are scheduled to begin by the end of 2015 at an estimated cost of $80.5 million through 2018.

But all this two-way communication requires a medium, either wired or wireless, and "all technology options remain on the table," says City Light spokesman Scott Thomsen. If City Light chooses a wired technology, the most obvious choice would be fiber-optic cable—a technology with the capacity to deliver high-speed data, voice, and TV in addition to the smart meter's minimal needs.

A city-owned fiber-optic system built atop City Light's AMI network would eventually reach every home and business in the city, offering speeds 10 to 20 times faster than current top offerings—plus voice and TV—at a much more affordable price. A 2007 study commissioned by the city estimated that this added competition could save Seattle consumers $2 billion over 20 years, providing a "gigantic boost to the local economy."

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