Seattle Broadband - Not So Silly
As a blog that believes in free markets and private enterprise, you might ask why we are lauding a report that suggests the possibility that the City might get involved in delivering telecommunications services. But, there are good reasons for our enthusiasm for this report.
First, the Broadband Task Force was clear that the first choice would be for private enterprise to take on the challenge. The Task Force suggested that the city look closely at not only how it could promote private enterprise to make the investment, but at how its current policies and regulations might hinder it. The City could learn a lot from an honest examination of these issues.
But, most importantly, Seattle is in a bad spot as far as advanced communications goes. Yes, we have Microsoft and Craig McCaw in the region. But, even with these sorts of technology entrepreneurs, we are coming up very short in the broadband equation.
In many respects, Seattle is a backwater as urban areas go. Worse, we are stuck with one of the worst Regional Bell Operating Companies in the country, Qwest. Qwest (formerly US West) has consistently blundered along ever since its formation after the break up AT&T in the early 1980s. Now, thanks to its purchase by Joe Nacchio’s Qwest – which was originally an inter-city fiber optic network built on mountains of debt – the company has a tremendous debt load that prevents it from doing anything more dramatic than cut costs.
Comcast is not any better. As the nation’s largest cable company, Comcast has several larger urban centers in line before it gets around to making new investment in Seattle. In fact, some of the highest prices Comcast charges for digital cable TV and cable modem Internet service are in Seattle. Metropolitan areas such as Washington DC have much better prices wrapped up in promotions that Seattle never sees.
Seattle was very welcoming to companies that formed out of the telecom boom of the late 1990s. Those companies built out fiber optic rings in the downtown core of the city, which was good for businesses in Seattle, but did nothing to provide competition for residential and small business services.
So, the Broadband Task Force's work is a welcome addition. While the city farts away huge sums of money on the silly monorail project, which likely will never be built and even if it is, will do little to nothing about transportation needs in the city, it could focus one twentieth of the money on developing a true broadband network that would do wonders for it all around.
And, don’t think private enterprise would be shut out. The City could build the infrastructure and allow any number of innovative companies to delivery the services.
It’s a win / win idea for the City.