This summer, Mayor Mike McGinn worked to bring fiber-optic cable to Pioneer Square, increasing the area’s Internet access. Now, the Mayor, along with University of Washington (UW) President Michael Young and others, announced a new plan to bring high-speed fiber to neighborhoods such as South Lake Union and the University District.
For the first time, Seattle will offer to lease access to its unused “dark fiber” to allow private companies to build broadband networks with speeds up to 100 times faster than is currently available.
“The City of Seattle has over 500 miles of unused fiber optic cable. It’s time to fire it up to help our local businesses and creative people innovate,” said McGinn. “Our partnership with UW can allow us to leverage our bandwidth to expand Seattle’s ability to compete in the global economy. By offering to lease the dark fiber, we can also negotiate with companies for better service to nearby neighborhoods who have poor quality service right now.”
Access to the fiber won’t be free, but it also won’t be an effort by the City to profit, said the Mayor. The plan is part of Gig.U, an initiative supported by 37 universities to accelerate broadband access in the communities around universities.
“Ultra-high-speed networks drive economic growth and encourage the next-generation of innovation,” said UW President Michael Young. “These networks can spur discoveries that address society’s critical needs, such as healthcare and education. The University of Washington’s partnership with the City of Seattle will accelerate these networks and stimulate businesses, from the University District to South Lake Union, as well as to other parts of Seattle. We are confident that our state will benefit from these new ultra-high-speed networks, and the discoveries that follow.”
University of Washington computer science professor Ed Lazowska said that the idea is to try to build unique private-public partnerships that bring true broadband to communities. At the same time, it will attempt to break the stranglehold that telecommunications companies have held on the growth of high-speed Internet access across the country.
Gig.U will allow the City and University to develop a concentrated zone of fiber optic connectivity to act as a platform for innovation in nearby neighborhoods such as the University District, Eastlake, and Cascade, as well as improve service to homes and businesses in South Lake Union. By leasing City fiber, private providers will be able to introduce better service to residents in those locations. The leases could help the City recover the costs of installing the fiber.
The partnership, announced at the University of Washington Medical Center in South Lake Union – a neighborhood that could benefit from the Gig.U project – is kicking off with a national Request for Information (RFI) from service providers and others interested in tapping the City’s unused high-speed fiber. Providers could lease the fiber from the City, an option that the City has never previously offered. The deadline for responses to the Gig.U RFI is December 2. Based on the response, the City and UW will follow-up with targeted requests for proposals.