Mayoral election brings Internet availability to the table

By Julia Scavicchio ‘14

For many of us the Internet is simply the Internet. We don’t think of where it comes from or who gives it to us. This may feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but there’s so much beneath the surface of where our Internet comes from that is tied to our privacy, politics, and the economy.

Mike McGinn, mayor of Seattle, is currently up for re-election. One of his big policies is expanding the broadband Internet speed and quality to citizens of the city by using the city’s own fiber optic cables and sourcing the project to the independent Internet service provider, Gigabit Squared, in Washington, D.C..

His political opponent, Senator Ed Murray, is not so ambitious. He intends to honor a contract to provide the flagship service to 14 initial neighborhoods but not to the entire city. The project is meant only to test the waters, and Senator Murray has shown no signs of continuing the service past its contract.

The new service backed by Mayor McGinn would cost $45 a month for 100 mbps service and $80 a month for one gbps speeds —compared with Comcast, which offers a service plan of 105 mbps for $115 a month. The price and quality disparity would cause many citizens to switch over to the superior city-run Internet service.

Senator Murray’s campaign has seen a number of donations from Comcast, including $500 from Comcast’s vice president of government affairs in Seattle. Five thousand dollars was donated to a group supporting Senator Murray and five thousand dollars to another PAC supporting Senator Murray who had a separate fund set aside for opposing Mayor McGinn. Comcast denies that its support has anything to do with the current mayor and his ambitions for a better citywide Internet service.

The Comcast CEO insists that, “most websites can’t deliver content as fast as current networks move, and most U.S. homes have routers that can’t support the speed already available to the home.” This is despite the fact that Google Fiber is up and running in Kansas City, and it provides routers with the capability to transmit the data. The technology is there; it’s only a matter of getting the ball rolling. There has been an outcry for better service in the Seattle area even before Gigabit Squared was announced, and many other cities across the country are wondering when they can get in line for the upgrade.

Some believe that Comcast is hesitant to upgrade Internet speeds because of the prevalence of streaming videos. Many TV shows can be found online to stream, but, of course, Comcast would rather you pay for its television services.

This election has the potential to send a powerful precedent to other mayors and elected officials attempting to bring higher quality service to their cities. They run the risk of seeing their opponents funded by Comcast, which seems to have everything under control so far.

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