Commentary: Beacon Hill’s internet service needs improvement

T-shirt slogan that many Beaconians can identify with. Photo by Will Glynn.
T-shirt slogan that many Beaconians can identify with. Photo by Will Glynn.
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

19 thoughts on “Commentary: Beacon Hill’s internet service needs improvement”

  1. I’m not sure if I was the only one to experience about an hour long outage tonight with Broadstripe but it was incredibly frustrating. Both my cable and internet were completely out from about 8:15-9:30 on Friday night. I attempted to call Broadstripe to report the outage several times. The phone either just rang and rang (I waited two minutes of just ringing on one attempt) or I got a message informing me my call could not be completed. For what I pay each month, I do not think this is acceptable service and intend on contacting Broadstripe tomorrow, presuming their phones are working again.

    After living all over the city and having Millennium (Broadstripe before), Comcast, and now Broadstripe again, I must say that the service I get on Beacon Hill is some of the worst I’ve experienced. I’ve never experienced such an outage without an obvious reason before Broadstripe.

  2. One thing in George’s commentary leaped out at me. His friend in Japan doesn’t have a faster connection because George lives on Beacon Hill — he has a faster connection because George lives in the United States. The country that invented the Internet (thanks Al!) has fallen way behind most industrialized countries in broadband speeds.

    As with so many other things in the news lately, it’s a regulatory failure. Communication regulations are predicated on the belief that quality and service invariably arise from open competition. That’s given the country mediocrity in both wired infrastructure and mobile phone technology.

    The industrial world is passing us in broadband, but what’s more significant is that the they are joined by the developing world in passing us on cell phones. Building cell networks is cheaper than building wire networks, and most of the world’s population with access to the Internet gets it through a phone. Because we don’t mandate a single standard, as most countries do, we’ve ended up with a patchwork of competing standards adopted by all the cell phone companies that arose over the past 20 years.

    In 1996, I saw a Coke machine in Nokia’s home country, Finland, that let you buy pop with a text message, charging it to your phone bill. I’m still waiting to see anything comparable in the US. In the meantime, Kenya’s Safaricom mobile phone company became the country’s biggest bank. People who never had access to banks before now can transfer money from phone to phone, which has boosted the economy and created more opportunity. If Kenya had instead followed the US model of cut throat competition between telecom companies, they’d probably have the mess that we have, lagging behind the rest of the world.

    I’m all in favor of competition, but it has to be done within a framework that defines what the common good is. While the national issues are huge, the city of Seatle can do its part by creating service level agreements that specify minimum download and upload speeds and maximum allowable downtime. That’s the framework. Then end the geographical monopolies, and make the cable companies allow competitors to use their wires. That’s the competition. The first pushes quality and service up, the second pushes cost down.

  3. Great commentary George, and great comments Brook. I agree on both accounts.

    In regards to Beacon Hill and my situation specifically, the mediocre and patchwork nature of the internet options available on Beacon has been one of the few big downsides I’ve experiences to living here.

    I’m a freelance designer and illustrator working out of my house just south of McPhersons, and I’m currently trying to run out the tail end of a two year Clearwire contract. I had it when I moved up here, and have been disappointed with it on a near daily basis. Speeds are usually only slightly better than dail-up speeds and the signal drops on a pretty much daily basis. Calls to their help center usually lead in circles, with them eventually admitting that I now live on the edge of their signal range.

    Since I plan on dropping them as soon as my contract is up, I’ve begun looking at the few options available, and have been pretty disappointed with what I’ve seen… over-priced and underwelming. And, comments like George and others have basically prepared me for the fact that even if I pay for something that promises to be high-speed and dependable, that the reality seems to be far from it.


  4. This is part of Mike McGinn’s platform in his run for mayor–creating a public utility for fiber optics & connecting every home in Seattle to the internet. I hadn’t heard of the guy until today but after listening to his pitch (including education and transit stances), I think I’ll most likely be voting for him. Nickels needs a viable opponent who is not committed to resigning after 24 hrs (Dan Savage) or who seems a little too wet behind the political ears to take seriously(James Donaldson).

    I promise I’m not part of the campaign, but the thought of one more winter where a “B” rating from that idiot means I am stranded on BeHi for fifteen days… well, let’s just say I might START campaigning.

  5. Thank you so much for this post. I’m kind of new to Beacon Hill and I thought I must be going crazy. As a small business owner that is dependent on his internet connection I’ve found myself dragging my laptop downtown more often than I care to admit just to check email.
    I’ve lived in many parts of Seattle and I’ve never had problems like this before. I never even heard of Broadstripe before moving to the hill and now I feel stuck.

  6. I recently moved to Beacon Hill after having lived in the north end for 17 years. I have also been very frustrated by the poor internet/cable services here.

    I never had a day of complaint when I was renting in a more well-to-do neighborhood. I was proud to buy my first home on Beacon Hill, which is a more affordable area. This lack of options and poor service is making me think the City of Seattle has intentionally offered the worst providers to the lower income neighborhoods. I agree with other posts – if the City wants to encourage urban density and renewal, they’d better provide us with the support we need.

    I too am looking forward to voting for Mike McGinn. Maybe he can help us turn this around!

  7. I live in the New Holly area and have had internet service from both Qwest and Comcast. Both were equally, painfully slow. I am stuck with Comcast now because they are my cable TV provider as well and internet. (horrible, horrible, horrible service, BTW). Supposedly I now have the super-duper high speed internet service from Comcast, but have yet to witness this dazzling display of speed.

    Back to internet service, correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t Qwest and Comcast (an others) share the same fiber-optic lines? It seems to me the whole neighborhood needs to be updated when it comes to fiber-optics.

  8. We recently signed up for Broadstripe and this past weekend was total frustration. I was out the whole weekend, not just an hour. I called on Sunday and actually reached a person who said there was an outage in my area and to try my connection in an hour. Well, it was out the rest of the day. I called again this morning and was in their phone maze for 18 minutes before talking to a person. In the end, he said my connection “should” be working now (but I’m not home to check). I too think there is some conspiracy (or likely a lack of any real political will) against the south end. When I lived in White Center, Comcast was my only option…no DSL. Comcast was actually pretty decent so I was disappointed to see that I couldn’t use them at our new place on Beacon Hill. If this service is truely as lousy as everyone claims, it is going to make working from home very difficult. I’d like to sign onto that letter to the city (or draft my own). I think the south end should practice the squeaky wheel strategy.

  9. Sorry to keep harping on this, but I’m curious what other people do when Broadstripe is down? It’s usually just easier for me to head downtown, but what are my other options close by? Does anyone know if the Library and local coffee shops are Broadstripe dependent on North Beacon? I’ve thought about forming a ISP co-op with my neighbors where we all would get different internet providers and share resources.

  10. Hey Joel,

    First, no. SPL has its own Internet connection and does not depend on Broadstripe.

    I like the idea of an ISP co-op. The devil is in the details.

    Here on 16th and Stevens, Broadstripe is the only choice. QWest is limited to 384K, and I haven’t heard anything good about Clearwire. (I think Clearwire is more interested in competing with 3G offerings than with fixed-point Internet).

    You could get a T-1 line or 2 from QWest, and share the cost (and bandwidth) with your neighbors. The issue is that it becomes something of a numbers game. As long as everyone is nice and just surfs the web, checks email, and watches the occasional YouTube video, harmony reigns. The first time one of your neighbors puts Watchmen up on Bittorrent, your neighborhood internet connection dies as millions of fanbois all hit the DOWNLOAD button simultaneously.

  11. Thank you, George, for adding to what must be a huge pile of complaints to the city council about internet service in Beacon Hill. When we moved to B.Hill, a housemate had a two-year Clearwire contract which they would not let him out of, since they claimed we were in their service area. I’m not sure of their definition of “service”, but in my book it doesn’t include frequent lack of access, loss of work during a session when Clearwire goes out, and very low download & upload speeds.

    So we called Qwest to order DSL. They told us they do not provide it in our part of beacon Hill because they do not have the line capacity to do so (apparently they don’t have fiber optic here). So we were left with the ugly choice of Millenium/Broadstripe. Our download speeds are all over the map and we had to have a computer expert optimize our house wireless network. Even after that, we still get download rates as low as 1.2 Mb per second, with frequent time-outs in the ping response. When we signed up, Millenium advertised speeds UP TO 6 Mb/s. Now they’re advertising 15 Mb/s!


    This is a non-commercial, easy-to-use site that measures your download and upload speeds at that moment (thus you should test 2-3 times daily), and more importantly saves your results over time. There is also a summary page showing your “average” download/upload speeds, and how they compare to the city, the U.S., and the world. For instance, Seattle does not even rank in the top 10 cities in the state for internet speeds!!! (And that includes Comcast, Qwest, Verizon, and Broadstripe) The average speed for Broadstripe is about 2/3 of the average for Washington State.

    Please everyone, start using this test and start sending your results to the city council and the City “Office of Cable Communications” every few weeks. As Laura said, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. In our case we should make it “the noisy car missing a muffler gets a ticket”.

    BTW, you may be eligible for some refunds. Read the “Cable Customer Bill of Rights” at

    especially the following paragraph (CAPS are mine):

    All Cable Operators shall meet ALL SPEDIFICATIONS ADVERTISED for Internet services
    Penalty: One (1) day’s free service for each day in which any advertised specification is not met for affected Customers.

    So I’m going to start requesting refunds from Broadstripe for each day that I receive an average download speed far less than 15 Mb/s. If we all do this, maybe Broadstripe will decide it’s cheaper to upgrade it’s facilities to provide better service, than it is to pay their customers for poor service.

    For outages, Broadstripe is required to credit you with one day of service IF YOU REPORT IT. Of course, as we all know, when service goes out, you can’t get through because everyone’s calling. So call the next day, and during your call request the credit for the day(s) you did not receive service.

    And everyone, PLEASE keep writing, emailing, calling, and visiting our City Council members. Let’s make them sick of hearing about Broadstripe’s poor service.

    A couple of people mentioned Mike McGinn’s proposal for a city-wide fiber-optic public utility. Whether he is elected or not, we should be putting pressure on the council for this. Talk to His Highness Nickels if you like, but don’t expect any action from him on this.

  12. I have to use Broadstripe because there is no other choice – we barely got local channels, always have a fuzzy picture, etc. Broadstripe has been to our house several times, replaced our modem, cable box, and wires many times – but the problem is never fixed. I got so mad after a weekend outage that I emailed the vp of Broadstripe, the national and local offices, the Seattle cable complaint line, and Nick Licata. Broadstripe actually called, sent over the supervisor on MY time – no more taking time off of work – and ended up having to fix several cable lines down the length of the street. We actually have good reception after 5 years. Unfortunately, yelling, screaming, and sending flame emails were the only methods that paid off – bad behavior was rewarded and I highly recommend it if Broadstripe refuses to provide service we pay big $$ for.

  13. Not sure if this is similar information that everybody else has received, but here is my response from one of the Council members. We need to continue to let the right people know that Beacon Hill cable tv and internet services are horrendous!


    My apologies for not getting back to your earlier email. Councilmember Harrell chairs the Council’s Energy and Technology Committee which has oversight of this issue. Therefore he is best able to answer any questions and bring your concerns to the attention of the Office of Cable Communications. If you would like to reach Councilmember Harrell’s office directly you can contact him at (206) 684-8804.

    Council Bill 115946 passed in October of 2007, renewed a ten-year, nonexclusive Cable Television Franchise Agreement between the City of Seattle and Millennium, which will allow Millennium to continue providing cable services in various parts of Seattle, including the Central Area, Beacon Hill, downtown Seattle, and parts of Capitol Hill and Queen Anne.

    The Office of Cable Communications oversees the franchise agreement and ensures that the cable provider is adhering to the agreement.
    Complaints about service or questions regarding Millennium’s status can be directed to the Office of Cable Communications. You may email a complaint to or call the hotline at 206-684-8498.

    Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any further assistance.

    My regards,

    Jean Godden
    Seattle City Councilmember

  14. We, customers of Broadstripe need to petition to the City Cable Office to either improve service or allow another cable company with more up to date equipment. Regardless how many times they change their name or go through bankruptcy, it is unfair to expect so many residents; and new ones coming into the area to tolerate inferior service and not have any right to obtain quality service. We are paying for inadequate service.

  15. I will never ever give my $$ to Broadstripe EVER again! They are absolutely the worst – and that Comcast & they have a no-compete mafia-like division of the city into Rich hoods get Comcast/poor get crappy Broadstripe (you don’t want to know my nickname for them) is just evil. I gave up on them 2 years ago and have Qwest DSL which is not fast enough – but my only choice and have on the difital converter box for TV.
    I would love to see the 2 comapnies have to compete.
    Peeved on Beacon w/slow internet – ElizaC

  16. Broadstripe is awful! What can we do about it? What kind of petition can we sign? it is absolutely unfair that I have to pay $130 for internet and cable when I am barely getting anything for the price I pay!

Comments are closed.