Seattle Is One Step Closer to Faster Internet Connectivity

Punit Sharma Photography

The Seattle City Council approved legislation on Monday that will pave the way for an expanded high-speed 1-gigabit-per-second fiber network in select neighborhoods. The bill calls for the removal of a handful of administrative rules that will allow for easier deployment of new broadband cabinets that are necessary for 1-gigabit connectivity.

But the legislation aims to mitigate neighborhood concerns by providing incentives for smaller cabinets, disincentives for cabinets exceeding 36 inches in height, including mandates for additional landscaping and screening for broadband infrastructure sited on public rights-of-way.

“We have gone through an extensive community process to get to this point, balancing the concerns of home-owners, street character and the desire to push fiber further out into neighborhoods,” Councilmember Bruce Harrell said in a statement. “Next-generation fiber broadband is vital for our students’ education, helps mitigate traffic by allowing residents to work from home, and businesses and startups benefit by stimulating innovation and jobs.”

In January 2013, the Seattle Department of Transportation started working with various stakeholders, including neighborhood groups, to help craft proposed rules for the siting of broadband cabinets on public rights-of-way.

The big winner is CenturyLink, which announced in August that it would launch residential and commercial 1-gigabit fiber service in 13 cities, including Seattle. CenturyLink’s Seattle 1-gigabit expansion would initially improve connectivity in four neighborhoods: Ballard, Beacon Hill, the Central District and West Seattle.

As GeekWire explained in August, CenturyLink will not be using Seattle’s dormant “dark fiber” network, at least not immediately, and will instead support its 1-gigabit service on the company’s existing fiber infrastructure. A Cincinnati-based company, Gigabit Squared, had planned to offer 1-gigabit connectivity using that dark fiber network, but it did not raise enough funding to follow through on its plans.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has supported plans to boost Internet speeds in the city.

“This legislation is a win-win for neighborhoods,” Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said in a statement. “Underserved neighborhoods will receive a lightning-fast level of broadband service, while the visual clutter typically associated with these communications cabinets will be greatly reduced.”

Read the full press release from the Seattle City Council:

Council Adopts Bill to Improve High-Speed Fiber Network Deployment

 SEATTLE – City Council unanimously approved legislation today that will help expand high-speed fiber network deployment by removing excessive administrative requirements for siting of new broadband cabinets, incentivizing smaller cabinets that deliver higher speeds and requiring landscaping and screening in neighborhoods.

All neighborhoods will benefit, but the changes will initially help companies like CenturyLink launch one-gigabit-per-second (Gbps) fiber internet service to Beacon Hill, the Central District, Ballard and West Seattle. New cabinets are necessary for the delivery of 1 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) service. One-gigabit-per-second is equivalent to 1,000 megabits-per-second (Mbps). According to speedtest.net in Seattle, the current average download and upload speeds are 34.95 Mbps and 19.85 Mbps.

“This critical change will bring next-generation broadband to unserved and underserved neighborhoods,” saidCouncilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee. “We have gone through an extensive community process to get to this point, balancing the concerns of home-owners, street character and the desire to push fiber further out into neighborhoods. Next-generation fiber broadband is vital for our students’ education, helps mitigate traffic by allowing residents to work from home, and businesses and startups benefit by stimulating innovation and jobs. We must continue to think outside the box to create an environment competitive for companies to build fiber to your home and business.”

“This legislation is a win-win for neighborhoods. Underserved neighborhoods will receive a lightning-fast level of broadband service, while the visual clutter typically associated with these communications cabinets will be greatly reduced. I look forward to the expansion of this service throughout the city,” said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chair of the Transportation Committee. 

Robert Kangas, chair of Upping Technology for Underserved Neighbors, said, “This is a great first step to opening our neighborhoods to improved broadband. Thank you to the Mayor’s office and the Seattle City Council for working with members of the community and the broadband providers to give us more competition and improved service. This will help Seattle remain a leader in the tech community for years to come. While this is an immediate win for the under-served areas of Seattle, it will benefit the entire city.”

Brian Hsi, chair of the Citizens’ Telecommunications and Technology Advisory Board’s Broadband and Cable Committee, said, “I’m pleased to see progress being made toward bringing more broadband choices for Seattle residents. For too long parts of our City could not receive the infrastructure necessary to build out affordable, quality, high speed broadband options. That changes today with the passage of this legislation.”

Beginning in January 2013, SDOT began engaging with stakeholder groups and sought feedback on siting issues for new telecommunication cabinets in the public right-of-way and held meetings with stakeholders from North Beacon Hill, Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board, Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities, Citizens’ Telecommunications and Technology Advisory Board, Public Space Management Task Force, Department of Information Technology, Department of Planning and Development, Office of Economic Development, Seattle City Light, CenturyLink, AT&T, Comcast, Wave, Verizon and various other community groups. The consensus of the group concluded that new legislation must prioritize:

1)    Improving broadband deployment, especially in underserved areas;

2)    Keeping our public spaces and rights-of-way free from visual clutter; and

3)      Maintaining other priorities for the public spaces and rights-of-way for community activation goals.

Council Bill 118208 will help broadband deployment by:

1)    Incentivizing smaller cabinets (less than 36”) that deliver faster connection bandwidth by streamlining the permitting and outreach requirements.

2)    Providing a dis-incentive for siting larger cabinets by requiring additional public outreach and visual mitigation for cabinets taller than 36”.

3)    Eliminating “veto power” from adjacent property owner as currently required in SDOT Director’s Rule 2-2009.

4)    Eliminating requirement of obtaining 60% approval from within 100 feet on proposed installation as currently required by SDOT Director’s Rule 2-2009. 

5)    Requiring written notification to all residents, businesses, and property owners within 100-foot radius if the proposed installation cabinet is greater than 36 inches in height.

6)    Requiring screening mitigation such as landscaping and vinyl wrap for new cabinet installations in residential zones above 36 inches.

7)    Removing graffiti in a timely manner.

8)    Requiring all service providers to submit quarterly reports to SDOT that describe each complaint received, how complaint was resolved, and how long it took to resolve the complaint.

(Image via Punit Sharma Photography/Shutterstock.com)

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