Seattle looks to expand broadband Internet with help from private businesses

Nov 15, 2011

Do you have a high-speed Internet connection?

If you do, you’re pretty lucky ... because many people in the Puget Sound region don’t ... even in relatively big cities, such as Seattle.

As part of a national push, the city has teamed up with the University of Washington to try and bring more private investment to broadband infrastructure.

At a press conference in a University of Washington building in the South Lake Union neighborhood, UW President Michael Young spoke during a news conference which was streamed live on the web.  He said although the university is an innovator, it’s falling behind.

“We need significant amounts of fiber optic cable to be able to pass the data through that makes the extraordinary developments and breakthroughs possible.”

Young says a new national consortium called Gig-U could help. (Gig is in this case short for Gigabyte – which refers to the huge amounts of information that need to pass through these high speed lines. )

It’s an association of 37 universities across the US that are aiming to get private companies’ help in paying for infrastructure improvements.

Seattle has several hundred miles of old wiring that need to be replaced.

Upgrading to fiber-optic “broadband” cable could make Internet speeds up to 100 times faster. 

Some local companies are already doing this kind of work on a small scale – but it could get much bigger.

“Verizon, AT&T, charter or Cox Cable, nationally – there’s even Google.”

Bill Schrier is the city’s chief technology officer; he says Gig U’s efforts to get zoning changes could also help the city of Seattle. 

That’s music to the ears of Mayor Mike McGinn, who wants to attract and keep more businesses that make up the city’s tax base.

“Because the fact of the matter is, we still believe in Seattle that somebody could start the next big thing in their garage - you know, or they could do it in the spare room down in the basement and if you can connect people with fibre optic cable,  that’s potential.”

To underscore his point, McGinn says decades ago, no one believed cell phones and smart phones would be so widespread … now most people rely on them for carrying out everyday tasks.  

Here's another take on the story, from Ryan Mac at Bloomberg news, in their story archive from July: 

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-07-27/duke-penn-state-among-group-pushing-to-fund-faster-internet.html