Seattle's New CTO Focuses on People, Infrastructure, Broadband Access for All

Michael Mattmiller says Seattle is keeping its options open when it comes to high-speed Internet.

by / September 17, 2014
Seattle CTO Michael Mattmiller Google+

Having been Seattle's CTO for nearly three months, Michael Mattmiller knows what he has to do to elevate IT in the city: assist in the continued deployment of a citywide Office 365 rollout and a data center consolidation -- and ensure everyone in the city has access to broadband.

Mattmiller is no stranger to the intersection of government and technology. He began his career as a developer, worked as a consultant to federal agencies during his nearly eight years at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and worked on product governance at Microsoft, ensuring products like the cloud-based Office 365 were secure and standards-compliant.  

As leader of the city's Department of Information Technology, Mattmiller named several areas where Seattle should focus its technology efforts, starting with giving employees modern tools and training.

“The people who work in government are very passionate about what they do, especially in a city like Seattle where, in an IT department, we have so many companies where these individuals could go down the street and have a very different work experience," he said. "But they choose to work in government because they’re passionate about our mission. We need to make sure our employees are enabled to do what they love and serve the people of Seattle.”

The city’s service request application, called Find It, Fix It, is representative of how the city should be engaging more with its residents, Mattmiller said. “We’re constantly looking for individuals who are passionate about civic issues or companies that are doing new and innovative things, and we want to enable them to use their time and talent to make the city a better place,” he said, adding that providing data through the city’s open data portal is a great way to enable that kind of engagement.

Maintaining a solid infrastructure in the city will also be crucial to its success, Mattmiller said, which includes promoting cloud services and continuing consolidation of the city’s 17 data closets into one co-located data center. “It’s still about a year out before we have everything in one location," he said, "but those are the types of opportunities I’m very focused on making sure we pursue – the efficiency and cost reduction that comes from having very stable, effective shared services."

The notion of digital equity, ensuring that all citizens have access to technology services and know-how, is another chief area of focus for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, said Mattmiller. Through the city’s annual Technology Matching Fund, Mattmiller and his team awarded 23 grants totaling $320,000 to local organizations that had ideas about ensuring that technology is available and accessible by everyone in the city. Programs that ensure digital literacy and broadband access are crucial to ensuring all residents are supported by the government, he said, including the estimated 100,000 who will immigrate to Seattle in the coming decade.

Since his hire, Mattmiller has mentioned in interviews that Seattle will keep its options open when it comes to broadband. Seattle’s plans for gigabit Internet fell apart along with its relationship with broadband startup Gigabit Squared.

The Federal Communication Commission is now considering altering the definition of broadband Internet -- increasing the speed from 4 Mbps to 10 Mbps. For a city to keep up with the changing standards, it must consider new avenues, Mattmiller said, like eliminating red tape. The city council is now reviewing proposed changes to the Seattle Department of Transportation’s Director’s Rule 2-2009, which made it difficult for broadband providers besides Comcast to develop their networks in the city.

“We learned that the existing process on the books was very cumbersome and inconsistent with other city practices, and was causing quite a bit of work for anyone that wanted to leverage the right of way -- to the point that companies didn’t try because they wouldn’t have a successful outcome,” Mattmiller said.

The proposed changes are already working. CenturyLink announced on Aug. 5 that it would bring gigabit-speed Internet to four Seattle neighborhoods, including the underserved Beacon Hill.

“We want to keep looking for those types of regulatory barriers so the market can bring broadband – and to be clear, that’s competitive, affordable, equal broadband options – as we approach a gigabit standard,” said Mattmiller. “We want to encourage that."

Officials also are still meeting with companies that want to partner with the city to leverage its dark fiber that’s currently available. "We’ve had some meetings and I think that will be a successful option for some targeted neighborhoods," he said, "but if that doesn’t yield the types of results we’re looking for, municipal broadband is still one of the strategies we’re investigating.”

Mattmiller noted that a municipally run network would cost the city around $600 million to $700 million, so it’s important for Seattle to remember that it’s charged with being a “good steward” of taxpayer funds.

When he’s no longer CTO of the city, Mattmiller said he would like his team to be remembered for having promoted cloud technology and digital equity, and “having developed enterprise-grade scalable, sustainable technology solutions that are cost effective.”

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.