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Will Ed Murray kill Seattle’s high-speed Internet effort? McGinn campaign plays technology card

A new report questioning campaign contributions from Comcast to Sen. Ed Murray is prompting many to insinuate Murray would not support a new Seattle high-speed broadband initiative. (AP images)

Would Ed Murray kill the coming of high-speed fiber-optic Internet access if elected Seattle mayor? That’s the insinuation being made this week by his opponents after an article in the Washington Post detailed significant campaign contributions from Comcast to Murray’s campaign.

At issue is a planned new service from Ohio-based Gigabit Squared to provide super-fast Internet service over Seattle’s unused city-owned fiber-optic network.

Late last year, incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn championed an agreement with Gigabit and the University of Washington on a contract to test the service initially in 14 neighborhoods.

Gigabit announced its initial pricing in June, starting at $45 per month for 100 Mbps service or $80 a month for 1 Gbps service along with a one-time installation charge of $350 that will be waived with a one-year customer contract.

By comparison, Comcast charges around $115 per month for its fastest service, which tops out at 105Mbps.

The service is scheduled to begin operating early in 2014. The company has said it plans to expand it after the initial pilot.

The Washington Post story details a number of donations to Murray from both Comcast directly and other individuals and political action committees with ties to Comcast or the telecommunications industry.

“These companies are sophisticated companies. I presume they’ve known Senator Murray for a long time in Olympia,” said McGinn in an interview Friday. “Certainly the fiber optic broadband roll out would negatively affect Comcast.”

McGinn began making the Comcast donations an issue during a recent question and answer session on reddit. In response to a question about what would happen with Gigabit Squared if Murray is elected, McGinn responded “I don’t know, but I do know Comcast gave Murray a big pile of money.”

But Murray consultant Sandeep Kaushik calls the article unfair and inaccurate, and says the writer unfairly mischaracterized Murray as an enemy of Gigabit Squared and the city’s fiber optic initiative.

“The insinuation in this story that somehow Ed [Murray] might not be supportive of expanding beyond the current pilot project is just wrong.”

Kaushik says Murray is fully committed to the initial rollout, but doesn’t want to make any promises about expanding the agreement until the company makes good on its promises.

The McGinn campaign is doing its best to make the issue an important one in the waning days of the race. Spokesman Aaron Pickus sent an email to newsrooms around the city Friday calling attention to the Washington Post article.

McGinn refused Friday to directly criticize Murray or accuse him of conspiring with Comcast to stop Gigabit Squared to offer competing service. But that’s certainly the insinuation.

“Comcast could compete for this as well,” McGinn said. “That would require them making a very large investment in a new network. Who knows, they might think it’s just a better investment to change the political arena rather than compete in the free marketplace.”

But Kaushik calls that absurd.

“Ed is not in cahoots with Comcast. We’ve received thousands of contributions from thousands of individuals. Those contributions are largely coming in because these are folks that are looking for a mayor that is going to be effective, period.”

As for the donations, Kaushik says they weren’t even for Murray’s mayoral bid.

“It was a donation to Ed’s legislative race in August 2012. After Ed announced he was running for mayor in early December, the contribution was converted over to that race.”

But Comcast did have to approve that transfer, Pickus points out.

And Murray has receieved a number of donations from several Comcast executives throughout the race. Campaign finance records show executive Janet Turpan donated $200 on October 30, raising her total for the campaign to the maximum $700 allowed.

The story has gotten widespread attention across the country, most notably from other technology blogs and publications that have largely echoed the tone of the Post piece that Comcast is trying to buy the election and Murray is in bed with company to undermine Gigabit.

“Some idea that Ed supports Comcast’s position on defeating Gigabit is just wrong,” Kaushik reiterates. “Comcast has probably a hundred issues.”

Seattle Times tech columnist Brier Dudley calls the whole thing “misleading and ridiculous” in an insightful post Friday. He points out McGinn, while championing several high-speed broadband initiatives since his election in 2009, partnered with Comcast two years ago in an effort to improve broadband in Pioneer Square.

“I ran on this issue four years ago and I’ve worked really hard to figure out how to get fiber to the neighborhoods,” McGinn said.

But despite efforts by his campaign to paint the mayor’s race as a choice between high-speed broadband and the same old service, there’s nothing to indicate the city won’t get its promised high-speed broadband next year, regardless of who wins the race.

And even if Gigabit for some reason fails to deliver, there’s nothing stopping the mayor from partnering with other companies to utilize the city’s fiber-optic network and deliver the service to its citizens.

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