CenturyLink would like Seattle to loosen its rules regarding installation of utility cabinets on public right of way.
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  • MORE LIKE UTILITY-CABINET-LEVEL EXCITING! Mayor Murray wants it to be easier for CenturyLink to install these throughout Seattle and offer high-speed Internet service.

Yeah, the mayor's office says it's still "exploring" whether the city of Seattle can do what Chattanooga, Tennessee did five years ago—launching a high speed, affordable city-run broadband service offering data rates many times higher than the national average. That program, called Chattanooga Gig, is already turning a profit to pay down loans used to build the system.

Today's big broadband announcement from Murray was less exciting, but still notable. Standing alongside CenturyLink Vice President and General Manager for the Greater Puget Sound Region Sue Anderson this morning, the mayor announced legislation submitted to the Seattle City Council that would change what's known as the SDOT Director's Rule. This proposed rule change would make it easier for CenturyLink to install the utility cabinets necessary to build out its fiber network to the neighborhoods of Beacon Hill, the Central District, Ballard, and West Seattle. As Goldy explained in January:

Under current permitting rules, CenturyLink must receive written permission from the property owner abutting the proposed utility cabinet, plus at least 60 percent of the property owners within 100 feet of the proposed site. Due to its inability to meet these city permitting requirements, CenturyLink says it has been forced to abandon 60 projects over the past few years that would have provided high-speed broadband to an additional 21,000 Seattleites.

On the other hand, these utility cabinets can be an eyesore and a nuisance. Would you want CenturyLink to have the unilateral authority to install these cabinets on your planting strip? Probably not.

"It's easy for a small number of folks in the neighborhood to stop an expansion for a larger number of people," Murray said today, explaining his decision.

Pressed by KIRO 7's Essex Porter at this morning's press conference, CenturyLink's Anderson refused to be pinned down on a timeline for the gigabit rollout, prompting Murray to step in and clarify, "We'd like to them to get done by 2015."

The cost of CenturyLink's new high speed service? $79.95 per month, "when bundled with additional, qualifying CenturyLink services," the company says. (Currently, for example, Beacon Hill-based vlogger Brett Hamil pays CenturyLink $50 a month for speeds that are ten times less than the national average. Incidentally, the company was fined by the state today for billing errors.)

Perhaps incidentally, or perhaps related: CenturyLink gave the maximum allowable contribution ($700) to Murray's mayoral campaign last year. Anderson, of CenturyLink, told me she'd like to see the city help private companies offer gigabit service before turning to a municipal option—which is exactly what the mayor is doing so far.

As for municipal broadband, Murray said, "That's something the city has looked at twice... And both times the report back was it didn't pencil out for the city. We're going to look at that again."

Bill Schrier, the city's former Chief Technology Officer, told me that while a municipal broadband solution would be the optimal thing for everyone, it won't happen in the current fiscal climate because it would cost the city $700-800 million. In the meantime, he says, CenturyLink's gigabit rollout would be a positive step—one that could push competitors like Comcast to stop raising prices without significantly increasing Internet speeds.