Who wouldn’t love faster Internet access – if affordable? The cautiously excited reaction on Tuesday was no surprise after we published word that Mayor McGinn announced in his “State of the City” speech that part of the West Seattle Junction area had been added to the planned mega-fast “demonstration” service planned by Gigabit Squared. We promised a followup, and talked this afternoon with Mark Ansboury from Gigabit Squared and the City of Seattle’s Chief Technology Officer Erin Devoto. Here’s what else we found out:
BOUNDARIES: *Don’t* get fixated on the borders shown on Gigabit Squared’s online map, they say. These are NOT the final boundaries, Ansboury told us – they are flexible right now as they continue with engineering work. Plus, they are also paying close attention to where they’re getting requests from (here’s where to sign up on the GB2 website). Eventually, he said, they would love to be citywide. And Devoto added, “Ultimately we want everybody to have it.” But they have said from the start that they would launch with a demonstration project of up to 100,000 households.
PRICING: “Well below 100 dollars,” per Ansboury, but they “haven’t picked the actual number yet – depends on the final cost structure.” He says they’re “trying not to offer lots of tiers,” though the service will come in various forms depending on a customer’s needs (examples here) – whether they’re a business or home, for example – and might be accessed wirelessly rather than by directly connecting with fiber. (Their technical FAQ answers a lot more questions here.)
HOW CLOSE IS THIS TO REALITY? Ansboury’s assessment is “Highly likely.” They’re working to secure financing in a variety of ways – including possibly New Markets Tax Credits. And they’re doing “due diligence, asking the hard questions” right now. They’re also spending $1.5 million on engineering and planning, for starters. “We think Seattle is the right place, right time, right commitment.” Devoto explained that a big part of the plan is the city offering leases on some unused fiber, so there’s pre-existing infrastructure for some of the system, while some of it will have to be built – especially “into neighborhoods, close to homes.” So if it can be done with fiber that exists now, we asked, why aren’t the existing providers doing it? They’re saddled with old infrastructure, according to Ansboury, while Gigabit Squared gets to start from scratch. “There’s a reason (those companies) are not reinvesting right now … they have other priorities. Yet there is this hunger and need” for the kind of service Gigabit Squared hopes to provide. Devoto points out that the city isn’t spending money on this, but they’re watching critically – if ultimately GB2 can’t deliver, others have expressed interest.
WHY IS IT A ‘DEMONSTRATION’? That’s because it’s not citywide to start with, says Ansboury – currently they’re looking at about 70,000 homes. They want to have a “sustainable business strategy” – but “assuming early success,” he added, “some investors have talked about possibly investing more.”
WHEN? Next step is for Gigabit Squared to finalize an agreement with the city – they’re hoping that will happen in April; the ongoing engineering work will have a lot to do with that. If it does, construction is likely “in the summer time frame,” Ansboury says, and the would “hope for soft launch of a smaller part of the demonstration area in the fourth quarter of this year,” launching more in the first quarter of next year.
WHY? “We got into this business because we wanted to be catalytic,” Ansboury explained – basically, while the U.S. is supposed to be pursuing world-class broadband service, things weren’t moving very fast in reality, so they jumped in. Everyone’s calling for “innovation” in so many things, he notes, “but if we don’t have broadband, we can’t have innovation.” So – they’re innovating to get mega-fast broadband to more people. “You don’t have to be a Google to do this.”
Again, if you’re interested, sign up here – no obligation, but their website promises that areas showing lots of interest could move up the priority list.