Thursday night was the candidate forum hosted by the 46th District Democrats. We worked hard on the questions that were asked, but this being my first time I hadn't thought of one question long enough or hard enough to really put it into the right words. I'm going to try again here.
Here is the original question, posed to the Seattle City Council candidates:
Tacoma has a free broadband network and Seattle has a large amount of unused fiber capacity belonging to private corporations. What are the pros and cons of sponsoring a similar free broadband network and would you support it?
First, Tacoma doesn't really have a "free broadband network". They have a high speed backbone running through the downtown that businesses can tap into and use. They did put $100 Million into a fiber-optic network that connects businesses and residential neighborhoods. Here's an article from August of 2000 about it and what people thought it might do to the economy in Tacoma at the time. So that was badly phrased.
What was most distubing to me was the answers that were given by the candidates for Position 6, including the incumbent, Nick Licata. Both Martin Kaplan and Jessie Israel talked about how it just wasn't feasible right now to do anything with high speed internet at the expense of the city, when our top priority should be economic growth.
... Excuse me?!
Ok, (I thought) maybe I'm missing something. I went to college to learn about technology and how it can spur economic growth. It's a no-brainer to me. Nick Licata mentioned that the council had looked at the issue, is looking at the issue, and might again look at the issue in the future. But it's not something that we can do right now, what with all the work it would take to place the lines and set everything up.
... Excuse me?!!!
In a discussion with Rusty Williams later, who had done a little bit of reading on the subject, he sent me this note:
As an IT major and a veteran of the dot com era, nobody knows better than I do the economic energy that it produced. One technological idea I have is to install a fiber optic network throughout the city. This network would be the uber-high speed conduit for deploying the City's digital media services. But the beauty would be in licensing this network to entrepreneurs who in turn would compete for our communications dollars resulting in better service, lower prices and better features. Imagine getting only the television channels you want. Or changing vendors when you are dissatisfied. We could see an end to the current oligopoly.
This is closer to the kind of answer I was looking for, but there was still something in the back of my mind bugging me. Tonight, I found it.
Seattle doesn't need to install anything. During the 1990's, like the Barenaked Ladies sing, "It's All Been Done". And it's still mostly dark. Meaning unused. Sleeping, like our economy right now.
So, what to do... How about a rephrasing of the question?:
When I was in college in 2002, I saw a report in the Puget Sound Business Journal on the tremendous amount of fiber optic cable under the streets of Seattle that had been installed in the 1990's but had since gone 'dark', meaning super high speed broadband capacity that was not being used. What can the city do to ignite the economic engines of our city by making use of this under-utilized resource?
Candidates, it's your move.