Wednesday, May 25, 2005

They get it in Seattle: city is told it must rewire

Yo folks, you know uber cool Seattle of Microsoft fame? The place out of which all those nifty realnetwork video trailers are streamed? You'll be surprised to find that Lafayette is actually out ahead of Seattle in regard to understanding broadband basics. But hey, the folks in Seattle aren't so uncool that they aren't starting to figure it out on their own. As reported in "Seattle is told it must rewire," the city got something a little different than what it bargained for when it sent out a blue ribbon panel to examine the potential for a city-wide broadband network:
Seattle City Council member Jim Compton, chairman of the Utilities and Technology Committee and a sponsor of the task force, said he was surprised by the findings.

'We sent them out to find out if we should do citywide Wi-Fi, and I thought that's what the business model would point to,' Compton said. 'Instead, they came back and said that is one of the things we should do, but more important for our broadband future is a citywide fiber-optic network.'
Hey, that's what happens when you send tech types out to really look at a problem. They figure things out:
The recommendation of fiber comes as a number of cities, including Spokane and Philadelphia, have approved construction of less expensive wireless networks. But wireless, including an emerging technology known as WiMax that can cover many square miles, does not provide the bandwidth or security necessary for applications such as telemedicine, remote learning or interactive government. It also has issues with network interference and spectrum licensing, Clifford said.

"The long-term problems and challenges that Seattle faces are not likely to be solved by wireless," he said. "What Seattle and all cities will need is a big, big pipe capable of 25 to 100 megabits (per second) each way."
Yup. Exactly. And Seattle, while it may have a reputation as a slacker haven, knows it can't just sit around and wait for all that broadband goodness to come along at the convenience of the incumbent providers. If they want their city to prosper they'll have to invest in themselves:

The idea of a municipally supported network that provides high-definition television, voice over Internet, on-demand movies and other services could put the city in competition with telephone and cable companies. Though there are potential ways for the city to work with those incumbents, the report indicated that it would be a mistake for Seattle to wait for "private markets" to drive the construction of new networks.

"Without the city playing any role and without taking the initial steps we outlined, other cities are going to fare much better because there will be more robust competition," Clifford said.

I have to say they play a good game of catch-up. They even understand that the city will provide competition if it goes this route. It's clear they get it in Seattle.

Want to know more? You can download the study, Report of the Task force on Telecommunications Innovation, and look through it yourself.

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