Most cities are happy just to have a single option for 1 Gbps Internet access. Seattle isn’t one of them.

Gigabit service is already available in Seattle, and from more than one provider. Typically, communities that have pursued municipal broadband have done so as a side benefit of other programs or because private providers weren’t willing to build fiber networks. There have been cases in which private providers have offered service in markets that already have municipal networks, but it’s unusual to see a city with existing broadband options pursue a municipal network.

It appears that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray wants to pursue all broadband options. The mayor’s office website lists his three tactics for improving the city’s connectivity.

1. Eliminate red tape that makes Seattle less attractive to private networks.
2. Merging private/public solutions by using public fiber already in place.
3. Commission a study investigating whether a municipal broadband network makes sense.

The city will soon release that study, but this isn’t the first such report for Seattle. It isn’t the second, or even the third. The city funded previous studies in 2005, 2007, and 2011 to investigate the feasibility of building a municipal network. Why commission a fourth study?

Ambition and Expense

The 2011 report put the price of a municipal network at $700 million, which, at the time, Seattle didn’t have. As the economy improves such an expenditure becomes more feasible. A second reason is that advocacy group Upgrade Seattle claims a municipal network will make broadband more affordable to low-income residents.

While it may not be an official reason for backing a municipal network, Seattle’s notorious anti-corporate streak could be something that sways public opinion in favor of a public network. Recent federal government support of municipal network construction can’t hurt, either.

If Seattle does build a municipal high-speed network, it would be the largest city in the nation to do so thus far. It has 500 miles of existing fiber, and that’s obviously a good start, but it’s not nearly enough. Chattanooga’s municipal network has more than 6,000 miles of fiber for a population less than one quarter the size. As that $700 million price tag suggests, the value of that existing fiber might not be significant enough to influence a decision on whether to build out the rest of the network

Another Northwest Approach

Seattle might also take a page from its weirder neighbor to the South, Portland. In April, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a bill exempting gigabit Internet services from certain property taxes. It’s probably just a coincidence that Portland has been on the list of potential cities for Google fiber service, right?

Seattle Has Options. So Do You.

Residents of Seattle and elsewhere don’t have to commission a study to find the fastest local Internet speeds. You don’t need $700 million, either. In fact, you only need five numbers to find broadband access that’s right for you – your zip code.

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