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Group fighting for Seattle broadband to become a public utility

A group is pushing for broadband Internet in Seattle to become a public utility. (AP)

A widespread Internet outage in Seattle that left more than 30,000 customers in the dark prompted a grassroots organization to kick-start its campaign early.

Upgrade Seattle, a group pushing for municipal broadband, wasn’t planning on announcing itself until June. The Comcast outage on Thursday, however, changed things.

“We’re getting calls from folks we know who work in Capitol Hill about how they had to leave work,” said Sabrina Roach, an organizer and Doer with Brown Paper Tickets. “They weren’t able to get things done.”

The group is pushing for broadband Internet in Seattle to become a public utility, offering fast, affordable Internet for everyone.

Seattle residents don’t rely on private companies to provide the basics, such as water and electricity, Roach said. Private companies can cherry pick where they provide service, which is a problem.

“If Internet were a public utility in Seattle, everyone would have access,” Roach said. “There’s just no limit to the things that could shift in our city if we had that access.”

Making Internet a public utility could allow for better reliability, Roach said. The impact of construction crews accidentally cutting a fiber-optic line in South Lake Union, for example, might have less impact if there are more safeguards.

“I’m very concerned that construction in South Lake Union – cutting one big cable – impacted so many neighborhoods downstream,” she said.

Though Internet is controlled by private companies in Seattle, there are safeguards in place for customers. The City of Seattle has a Cable Customer Bill of Rights, which Mayor Ed Murray reminded residents following the widespread outage on Thursday. The bill of rights allows for cable customers to receive free service for each day there is an outage, among other benefits.

Though Upgrade Seattle is in its early stages, Roach said the group is already getting quite a bit of attention. “Hundreds” of people responded to a survey regarding its name alone in January. The group is planning an official launch June 18.

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