Studies and history
The City of Seattle has regularly studied the state of broadband services in the city, and opportunities for Seattle to support a municipally-owned broadband internet service. Below is a summary of reports and significant milestones.
Most Recent Study - 2017 - Approaches for Increasing Public Wi-Fi Service in Seattle
In 2016 the City commissioned a report to identify areas where publicly-accessible Wi-Fi can have a meaningful impact in Seattle and to identify potential funding sources, business models, and partners to expand the availability of public Wi-Fi services, especially as a means to address Seattle's digital equity and digital inclusion needs.
As part of this work, the City also released a Request For Information (RFI) to gather information and ideas from service providers and other vendors.
The resulting study, completed in February 2017, has indicated that there is a great deal of interest in accessing City fiber, real estate, right-of-way, and other assets for the purposes of providing Wi-Fi but that the City needs to determine the appropriate value of these assets.
The study also found that there are opportunities for increasing public Wi-Fi at low or no cost to the City through models that are supported by advertising and other revenue-generating models, but that the City needs to examine the public policy implications of these models and engage the community to determine how these approaches would work in Seattle.
The work to determine the areas of greatest impact in Seattle and the most appropriate and effective business models will continue throughout 2017.
1996 - Seattle Fiber Partners Created
The City and other government agencies determined that they could substantially reduce operational costs by jointly installing fiber cables to displace commercial telecommunications services. In 1995, the City Council passed Ordinance 117981 establishing a model for cooperative agreements between public agencies for fiber projects. The program was originally envisioned for internal agency use only; it did not envision using fiber to provide internet services to the public.
The partnership completed its first project in 1996 and has since invested about $25 million to construct approximately 550 miles of fiber in the greater Seattle area. New fiber installations are expensive, and partner agencies often installed more fiber than they needed for their immediate use in anticipation of future demand. Portions of that excess fiber remain unused today.
2003 - Futurists panel explored the future of broadband
The City Cable Office convened a one-day seminar that included U.S. Senator Cantwell and senior executives representing health care, education, and technology firms to discuss broadband capabilities and underlying infrastructure. Subsequently, City Council adopted Resolution 30684 in June 2004 creating the Task Force on Telecommunications Innovation (aka the Broadband Task Force) to explore the feasibility of using municipal resources in a network available to the public using broadband technologies, Wi-Fi and other telecommunications technologies.
2005 - Broadband Task Force
The Broadband Task Force was convened to analyze broadband options and adopted a goal for broadband in the city: by 2015 all of Seattle will have affordable access to broadband network. The Task Force recommended that the City pursue fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) noting that wireless technologies by themselves would be insufficient to meet the City's future broadband needs.
2006-2007 - RFI for FTTP Build-out
The City released an RFI seeking private entities to partner with the City to build a FTTP network. We received 28 responses from various local, national, and international entities including Qwest, Verizon and Vulcan. A team comprised of representatives from DoIT, City Light, the Citizens Technology and Telecommunications Advisory Board (CTTAB) and consulting firm Communications Consulting Group (CCG) evaluated the responses. Ten of the respondents were interviewed during late September and early October and many of the respondents presented interesting proposals. Overall, the companies we interviewed were extremely positive about Seattle's intentions: they think such a system is not only eminently "doable," but would make money. Ultimately they believed that the City would have to have some level of investment to make the partnership work. The City was unwilling to commit to any investment.
2007-2011 - Municipal Broadband Studies
The City commissioned various studies (referenced below) to determine the feasibility of a municipal deployment of its own fiber-to-the-home (FTTP) network or in partnership with the private sector. The studies indicated that the cost to the City would be in the range of $440-850 million. Because of that high cost, the City decided to pursue public-private partnership opportunities where a private entity, rather than City taxpayers, would assume that financial risk.
|Residential Survey Results for the City of Seattle
||CCG Consulting LLC
||Department of Information Technology (DoIT)
|Financial Feasibility of Building and Operating a Fiber Network in the City of Seattle
||CCG Consulting LLC
||Department of Information Technology (DoIT)
|Broadband Telecommunications Report
||Plexus Research and R.W. Beck
|Evaluation of Potential Risks and Benefits of Municipal Broadband
|Benefits Beyond the Balance Sheet: Quantifying the Business Case for FTTP in Seattle
||Department of Information Technology (DoIT)
|Seattle Community Broadband Initiative
||City departments, including City Light, DoIT, the Mayor's Office and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) in conjunction with CTC Engineering
2010-2011 - Google Fiber for Communities application
In February 2010, Google announced a Request for Information (RFI) to build a FTTP network in a major American city. The City submitted a response to Google's RFI, emphasizing the value of the excess fiber to a third party looking to build out a private FTTP network. Google announced selection of Kansas City for FTTP project, Seattle was among the top 10 finalists.
2011 - Broadband in Pioneer Square
Software start-up businesses in Pioneer Square have been held back by a lack of broadband Internet services. In July 2011, the City passed Ordinance 123665 which authorized leasing excess capacity in a conduit running through Pioneer Square to a private company. The City then released a RFP for internet service providers for use of that conduit. Comcast submitted a proposal and subsequently entered into a lease agreement for use of that conduit. To date, Comcast has not leveraged the conduit but has increased its service to Pioneer Square.
2012 - Leasing Excess Fiber Capacity
The City passed Ordinance 123931 which authorized the City to lease excess fiber capacity to private companies. The City issued a Request for Interest (RFI) to solicit interest in leasing the City's excess fiber, particularly companies interested in making FTTP services available citywide. Ten private companies responded: Cascadelink, Cascade Networks, FastMesh, Gigabit Squared, Integra Telecom, Level 3 Communications, Pavlov Media, Spectrum Networks (now owned by Wave Broadband), UNE Communications, and Yavapai.
2012-2013 - Gigabit Squared
In May 2012, Gigabit Squared (GB2) announced plans to invest $200M and deploy FTTP broadband networks in six cities nationwide. GB2 issued an RFP, and Seattle collaborated with UW to respond to that RFP. In October 2012, GB2, University of Chicago, and State of Illinois announced a $9M project to deploy FTTP to 4,825 homes in Chicago. That same month, GB2 notified the City and UW that it also intended to launch a project in Seattle. Plans for Seattle were publically announced at a press conference in December 2012. The City, UW, and GB2 signed a Letter of Intent and Memorandum of Understanding for a demonstration project where GB2 would invest $25M to build a FTTP network in 12 targeted areas across Seattle and pass at least 55,000 homes/100,000 residents. No financial investment was required by the City or UW. Two additional targeted areas (Ballard and West Seattle) were subsequently added to the project in response to high demand in those neighborhoods. In January 2013, GB2 started fundraising and preliminary engineering. GB2 announced pricing in August 2013. Ultimately, GB2 was not able to secure its financing and the project was placed on indefinite hold late in 2013.
2013-Present - Second Excess Fiber Capacity Lease RFI
The City issued a second RFI for leasing excess fiber capacity in response to public interest. Three additional private companies responded: Noel Communications Inc., Philips Electronics, and Stratuscore. In 2013, five companies (three from the 2012 RFI and two from the 2013 RFI) entered into engineering agreements with the City to research availability of fiber routes. In February 2014, the City signed it first excess fiber lease agreement with Cascade Networks.
2014-Present - Reducing regulatory barriers and a new strategy
In October 2014 Mayor Murray signed Ordinance 124598 eliminating SDOT Director's Rule 2-2009 and revising the Seattle Municipal Code to allow providers more flexibility in installing communications cabinets in the right-of-way. These revisions allowed CenturyLink to select Seattle as one of its gigabit cities and begin deployment of gigabit-speed fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) to tens of thousands of single-family Seattle homes. In addition, Wave Broadband, has announced its plans to build FTTP gigabit broadband service to Seattle's Eastlake neighborhood.
2015 - Seattle joins Next Century Cities
In January, the City of Seattle joined the Next Century Cities, a group of municipalities who recognize the importance of leveraging gigabit-level internet and fully realizing the full power of truly high-speed, affordable, and accessible internet.
2015 - Fiber-to-the-Premises Report
In December 2014 the City of Seattle comissioned an updated municipal broadband feasibility study to understand the CIty's ability to be a retail broadband internet service provider. In June 2015, the resulting study found the City could not finance the build out of a City-owned and operated municipal broadband utility funded only by rate-payer revenue presents significant risk to the city's finances at this time. The City is looking into other options for funding, joint ventures and best practices to bring equal broadband access across the city. Read the study by clicking on the links below:
- City of Seattle Fiber-to-the-Premises Feasibility Study
- Appendix A - Financial Projections for Tax Funded Utility Model with Construction in Power Space
- Appendix B - Residential Survey Instrument
- Appendix C - Business Survey Instrument
- Appendix D - Business Survey Tables
- Appendix E - Residential Survey Tables
- Appendix F - Financial Projections for Construction in Power Space
- Appendix G - Financial Projections for Construction in Communications Space Given Market Penetrations Necessary for Cash Flow
- Appendix H - Financial Projections for Construction in Communications Space Given Market Penetrations Estimated by Surveys