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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Municipal Broadband Would Provide the Competition Necessary to Make Seattle's Broadband Market Function

Posted by on Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 3:22 PM

What happens when you compete with the incumbent broadband monopolies? Faster service and lower prices:

When Google said it was going to bring its high-speed fiber optic service to Austin, it probably didn't expect to touch off a race to switch on the cheapest, fastest Internet service around. But within a year of announcing the move, AT&T followed suit. And now a third company has beaten them both.

Grande Communications, a 10-year-old provider based a half hour away in San Marcos, Tex., is rolling out full gigabit fiber to seven neighborhoods in west Austin next week. Gigabit service customers will benefit from speeds up to 100 times the national average. The company's service won't require a contract, doesn't impose data caps and vows to obey net neutrality principles. At $65 a month, it'll be more affordable than either Google or AT&T's offerings — and it'll come with fewer strings attached.

Absent additional competition, Comcast and CenturyLink are clearly not going to make the investments necessary to give Seattle residents the high-speed affordable service we want and need. Current speeds are "fast enough for typical residential uses," Broadband Communications Association of Washington executive director Ron Main recently argued in the Seattle Times. Main says that only 5 percent of Comcast's local customers choose to subscribe to the company's fastest 105 Mbps service, arguing that demand for higher speeds simply is not there.

Well, maybe not at $115 a month plus tax and fees. Meanwhile, Chattanooga, Tennessee's municipal broadband service is having no trouble signing up subscribers for speeds ten times faster at only $70 a month... you know, less than what Comcast charges Seattleites for 50 Mbps service.

If Google or some other company wants to step up and provide universal access to affordable high-speed Internet to every Seattle home, that would be great. But they don't. So municipal broadband may be the only way to create the broadband competition Seattle needs.


Comments (31) RSS

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@30 the city's fiber network reaches public buildings and is present along most major arterials, but a network isn't just the fiber alone. It's also the core routers, layer routers, access points and other electronic equipment on the hardware layer. It's also the traffic management at the network operations center and the constant software layer upgrades and programming. It's also the customer support and the sales teams that must be deployed to attract people to the service. It's also the marketing and the negotiation of service and installation agreements with end customers. It's the financial team and HR teams that are required to keep the place running. It's the wholesale traffic management teams that ensure you have access to Tier 1 and Tier 2 ISP's and can negotiate favorable settlement terms. If you miss any of these pieces or do them poorly, your network will suck. In short, the city does not have all these pieces and so far has shown it is incapable of selecting a partner capable of delivering even a few of these.
Posted by Akbar on February 13, 2014 at 9:17 PM · Report this
MrBaker 30
@27, let's all pretend that the city doesn't already have a fiber network.
Have you been to a library? There aren't magic fairies and Keebler elves making the intertubes illuminate.
They/we already have experience rolling out a fiber network on a smaller scale.

It's unfortunate that McGinn didn't want something on the ballot competing with his imaginary vote for light rail (campaign promises, and all that), but he flat fucking choked.
Posted by MrBaker on February 13, 2014 at 4:18 PM · Report this
@21 agree we need cheaper, faster service. But I don't think a muni broadband network in Seattle is going to accomplish that in the timeframe people want - not citywide at least. The real problem is getting fiber out to the neighborhoods and all the single family homes. In dense multi-family / multi-tenant areas, you have lots of providers. Neighborhoods like South Lake Union have great service options. You get out to Beacon Hill and Central District, though, and that's a problem. We have to address those first.
Posted by Akbar31 on February 13, 2014 at 2:01 PM · Report this
@8 Yep those are average speeds coming from Ookla, which runs, so it includes connections that are much faster and much slower. On average, though, the Comcast network is faster than the Tacoma Click! network. That's just what the aggregate data show.
Posted by Akbar31 on February 13, 2014 at 1:57 PM · Report this
@7 There's a reason why the city backed off forking out $465M for an open-access network identified in their 2007 plan. They don't have the expertise to build it. They don't even have the expertise to select a good network partner and instead chose Gigabit Squared, who left town with a $52K bill. Before the taxpayers double-down on muni fiber, we should be asking hard questions, not jumping on promises we can't keep.
Posted by Akbar31 on February 13, 2014 at 1:50 PM · Report this
Fire Aim Ready 26
If you're lucky (like I am), you live in a building with Condointernet service. $60/mo and mine tests out at 102 Mbps down and 105 Mbps up. Now that's more like it.
Posted by Fire Aim Ready on February 13, 2014 at 11:18 AM · Report this
@19 I'm not dancing around anything, my statements were solely addressing the accuracy and value of Ookla's data, and your particular connections's performance to certain websites has no bearing on that. That said, I do feel your pain; I've used Comcast and they suck, and the only way I could get a guaranteed quality connection was to pay more for a business circuit. If my current provider (Wave) starts pulling that shit I'll be bitching on internet forums too.

@22 Every ISP with a speedtest on their website is one of Ookla's customers. So your theory is what, that Comcast is paying Ookla off to tweak their stats and bump them to...the middle of the ratings?
Posted by Henry on February 13, 2014 at 10:24 AM · Report this

Fuck you, shill. Now go spend your check from Comcast (or maybe Condo Internet?) on hookers and blow.
Posted by Mr. Happy Sunshine on February 13, 2014 at 9:59 AM · Report this
@15 You fucking idiot, stop ignoring the fact that networks can prioritize traffic based on where it's going.
Posted by Solk512 on February 13, 2014 at 9:37 AM · Report this
@13 Be aware that Comcast is one of Ookla's major customers.

Ookla : Comcast :: Moody's : Bear Stearns.
Posted by dirge on February 13, 2014 at 9:09 AM · Report this
Kinison 21
@6, Tacoma Click does provide speeds up to 100mb, but its not cheap, mostly because its a FTTN service. Price is a tad high, but if it were a FTTH service, then it would be a bit cheaper.

Seems like many companies offer 50-100mb service (which is fine for my needs and I have 3 media players, 4 PCs, 2 tablets, 2 phones, streaming cable card, 2 IP cams, etc) it just isnt cheap. So the whole push for fiber is mostly to provide, not faster service, but cheaper service. And for people who have seriously slow service, that can easily be resolved by having the city drop some of the requirements for wiring up neighborhoods.
Posted by Kinison on February 13, 2014 at 8:37 AM · Report this
@15 You just sound like a paid concern troll/shill for Comcast.
Posted by wl on February 13, 2014 at 6:51 AM · Report this
@15 your dancing around the issue. If the sites I use are the ones that are throttled, it doesn't matter how fast the other sites are. I really don't care how fast MSN shopping network is. I also don't care how fast Comcast is in Eastern WA. I also don't care how fast it is in the middle of the night. I want my ISP to be fast in North Seattle in the evening/
Posted by wl on February 13, 2014 at 6:49 AM · Report this
I meant @16^^
Posted by Upchuck on February 13, 2014 at 6:44 AM · Report this
@12 the monorail didn't fail on its own accord... It was politically sabotaged by 5 pennies and the rest of city hall. If municipal broadband is started and then fails it will also be a political death.
Posted by Upchuck on February 13, 2014 at 6:43 AM · Report this
Let's have some numbers, please. How much would it cost to build out a citywide fiber-to-customer system, and over what period of time?

Tradition says such a utility system would be funded by bonds which would be paid off over time by subscriber revenue -- like our water system and City Light.

How high would rates have to be to cover bond payments, plus operating and maintenance costs? What percentage of potential customers would have to sign up at those rates?

I hope all the "studies" will yield some hard numbers, otherwise it's all just pie in the sky. We don't want a repeat of monorail.
Posted by Citizen R on February 12, 2014 at 11:51 PM · Report this
@14 I reiterate: there is no more accurate data on real-world broadband performance. How well Netflix streams isn't relevant. I don't doubt that certain ISPs are throttling data to/from certain sites, but that is in no way an accurate measure of a connection's quality/performance as a whole.
Posted by Henry on February 12, 2014 at 10:22 PM · Report this
Well, except that is known well enough that major ISPs prioritize that traffic above something like, say, Netflix.…
Netflix's speed rankings show that video streaming performance on Verizon and Comcast has been dropping for the past three to four months.

commenters were weighing in on how much of the "buffering" problems were solved when they paid for a VPN (where your streaming traffic wouldn't appear to your ISP to be coming from Netflix),

Netflix on Comcast tanked for us in the past month or two. We would spend more time buffering than actually watching video. Once we set up a VPN with UnblockUs it magically went away.
Posted by ChefJoe on February 12, 2014 at 10:01 PM · Report this
@8 That data is from Ookla, who built and runs, so they've collected these numbers directly from the source. There is no more accurate data on real-world broadband performance. Also remember the number shown is an average, so there is obviously a great number of Comcast customers who's connections are nice and fast to counter your slow one, and you're never going to hear from those customers in threads like this because they don't have a problem.
Posted by Henry on February 12, 2014 at 9:31 PM · Report this
"*more* than" not "me than"
Posted by Upchuck on February 12, 2014 at 9:27 PM · Report this
What about price when you don't have to meet corporate profit margins, stockhder dividends, and executive pay demands with monopoly price gouging? I hear they have surperior public networks in Europe for about $20-$30/ month. This is a bigger concern for my working class non-tech needs me than smoking fast service speeds...
Posted by Upchuck on February 12, 2014 at 8:58 PM · Report this
JonnoN 10
I pay comcast way too much for 16mbps, but I get it. Along with packet loss and unpredictable latency.
Posted by JonnoN on February 12, 2014 at 8:18 PM · Report this
MrBaker 9
@6, and, we have already studied it, produced a study, and the nayor's office is studying the study.…

Time for action.
Posted by MrBaker on February 12, 2014 at 7:21 PM · Report this
@6 your source on network speeds is a little suspect. It lists Comcast a 27 megs and I almost never saw over 10. When I finally cancelled the service, mid evening it was usually around 1 meg. Sometimes .5 megs. This is like dsl from the 90s.
Posted by wl on February 12, 2014 at 7:01 PM · Report this
MrBaker 7
@6, no, we should have started this in 2009 and have it already.

@ Goldy, as is noted in my slog tip email the editor:
Please note, in their example in Austin, Texas, the commercial provider is making its offer in "seven neighborhoods" and not city-wide.
What we want to avoid is having a digital divide, with some neighborhoods having cheap gigabit speed and others having expensive, spotty, and sub-broadband level service.
Posted by MrBaker on February 12, 2014 at 6:31 PM · Report this
Goldy -

Love the idea of muni fiber, but there are warning signs all over the place and we should proceed with high degree of caution. The UTOPIA network in Provo, UT had to sell its fiber network to Google Fiber for a dollar because (and I quote from the Mayor): "Originally, we wanted to sell it for cash,” he said. “But it became evident no one would pay cash.” The thing was worthless. “Potential buyers looked at the network and said it’s not worth anything.”

Source: http://perspectivesonthenews.blogs.deser…

The Tacoma Click! Network, the muni fiber/coax ISP, was created for over $100M and is now slower than Comcast's network. It is, in fact, less than half the speed of the Comcast network.


This is not an easy thing to build and we need to make sure that we've fixed as many of the issues as we can at the city *before* we embark on the muni fiber talk.

Posted by Akbar31 on February 12, 2014 at 4:30 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 5
@3 - You'll need to call the city and threaten to quit. That's how I get a good tax rate at every level of government.
Posted by MacCrocodile on February 12, 2014 at 3:53 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 4
That piece by Comcast in the Times is darling. He seems to be simultaneously asserting that Comcast provides a superior product that everyone loves and that nobody wants that product anyway, so why bother.
Posted by MacCrocodile on February 12, 2014 at 3:52 PM · Report this
Knat 3
Do you have to call these companies every six months and threaten to cancel service in order for them to offer you a reasonable rate? I would sure hate giving up that semi-annual exercise in frustration by not having Comcast. /sarcasm
Posted by Knat on February 12, 2014 at 3:48 PM · Report this
Dougsf 2
"want it to mean..." [hangs head]
Posted by Dougsf on February 12, 2014 at 3:32 PM · Report this
Dougsf 1
This is great and I hope it happens everywhere. Mostly because I want it means 25mpbs for $20 a month. And also because fuck Comcast.
Posted by Dougsf on February 12, 2014 at 3:31 PM · Report this

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