by George Robertson
(Editor’s note: This commentary was originally sent as an email to several members of the Seattle City Council today, as well as to the Beacon Hill Mailing List. Coincidentally, this evening our Broadstripe internet service was out for more than one hour.)
After comparing notes with some of my neighbors about their internet service, I thought I should ask once again for some relief from the dismal internet service we have on Beacon Hill. I have written to council members before on this topic and I have uniformly gotten referred to some bureaucrat by whichever elected council member I wrote to. Each time the bureaucrat was very nice, asked a couple of questions, and described the service we have, and refreshed the picture of whatever stage the City was in at the moment in negotiations with the monopoly providers of cable. And then they would sum it up by telling me that we have great internet service. If this is going to be another replay of that merry-go-round, just delete this message. If you actually give a damn about the ability of this city to incubate new small business in the south end, then please read on and reply.
The first thing you have to take seriously is that there is a problem. The second is that it won’t be solved without adding new competitive service provider(s) to Beacon Hill. By competitive, I mean services with higher real delivered, as opposed to advertised, upload speeds than Comcast and Broadstripe offer to their business class customers now, and with much better net neutrality in bandwidth management practices.
Current providers are conflicted internally by being at the same time programmed media (cable TV) providers and internet providers. They are intrinsically interested in preventing upstart media streaming competition from their internet customers and in maximizing the bandwidth devoted to channels of programmed content. They manage and allocate bandwidth selectively by software and by simply starving some geographic areas more than others for infrastructure. The consequence is very bad for small internet-based enterprise incubation in the south end of Seattle.
The telcoms, too, have been masterful at starving our neighborhood’s geographic area for infrastructure. Ask one of them for a promise of bandwidth and speed at an address west of Beacon Avenue near Jefferson Park on the top of Beacon Hill, and you will discover just how third-rate the telcom infrastructure is up here. You will learn the meaning of the words “too far from the switch.” You can walk to downtown, but you have to carry bytes in a bucket to your storefront on Beacon Hill.
The telcoms and Clearwire put insignificant pressure on the cable providers to deliver better service, because they can’t provide it themselves without some investments that they just have not made. I have waited a decade for better service. My old friend living in public housing in Japan has better service than the best available here. Fundamental “for-profit” conflicts of interest are at the root of our problem, and there is no effective competition. All other types of internet service available on Beacon Hill are worse than the service offered by the cable companies, and what the cable companies offer, at its best, is still not good enough. The only real competition is at the very bottom of the service speed and quality range. And there is no high-quality service competitive with that available in other first world nations, except at many, many times the price our global competitors are paying.
It is not surprising that we have no jobs. We lack the brains and political will to invest in the public infrastructure to help us get out of our own way. We are in a depression. Government is starving for tax dollars. We need to stimulate new business development. Please fix our internet infrastructure on Beacon Hill and throughout Seattle.
We need it fixed so anyone, anywhere in Seattle can start a new, low-carbon footprint, internet-dependent, business that creates new jobs and earns revenue for you to tax. Please. This need is real, and an internet infrastructure project could be shovel ready in a blink if the council is ready to fund the one thing that can economically empower all Seattleites. By giving every enterprise affordable access to the internet infrastructure they need, you can remove a significant obstacle to implementation of small widespread networked enterprise throughout Seattle, and you will empower everyone in Seattle to affordably reach out globally with their marketing data and communications. That is the kind of economic stimulus we need here right now.
George Robertson is a long-time Beacon Hill resident. His website is http://www.georgerobertson.com/.