Google is bringing high speed fiber broadband networks to homes and businesses in three cities – Kansas City, Austin and Provo. In February, it announced 34 more cities it will approach for building fiber – Portland, Phoenix, Atlanta and more. 
 
But not Seattle.
 
And Seattle won't be making Google’s list anytime soon.
 
The “Seattle Process” and a balky bureaucracy at City Hall stand squarely in the way.
 
It wasn’t always this way. We were on the short list in 2010, when Google solicited cities to apply and become its launch city. 1,100 cities applied. And Google actually came to Seattle and met with Mayor McGinn and my team when I served as Chief Technology Officer for the City.
 
Now we’re not even on Google’s “long list”.
 
But Smyrna, Georgia, and Morrisville, North Carolina, are.
 
Why won’t Google build here?

1. The Seattle Process.

When Google announced its launch city for Google Fiber – Kansas City – it was a sensation. And the very next day the Kansas City Council authorized a contract with Google for the service. Can you imagine the Seattle City Council keeping a secret like this and then acting on it in just one day? Of course not. We’d need to have endless community meetings and hearings and public floggings of Google Executives. Every citizen in a tinfoil hat who thinks fiber is just another cereal ingredient would have their three minutes in front of the Council. 
 
We also love our lawyers — and haggling over every minute detail of contracts. Overland Park, Kansas, apparently has its own version of the Seattle process. It spent nine months arguing the Google Fiber contract, including an insignificant indemnity clause. Google finally just walked away.

2. Pole attachments.

Seattle has over 100,000 utility poles, most owned by Seattle City Light and many jointly owned with CenturyLink. Under FCC rules, attachments to these poles by others must be allowed. Indeed, that’s the way cable companies Comcast and Wave have built their networks — by stringing fiber and coaxial cables on these poles.
 
But doing so is not cheap. A City Light pole lease is $28.12 a year. If the pole is co-owned by CenturyLink, the lease is $14.06 a year to City Light. At these rates, building a network on 100,000 poles to serve every home and business would cost Google up to $2.8 million just to rent the pole space.
 
But leasing the space is not the real problem. There are a lot of wires already on these poles, and many of the poles are old. As poles age, they rot from the center. Adding more cables may cause them to break. So, if Google (or anyone else) wants to add cables, they must pay City Light to survey the route, cut back vegetation overhanging the poles, test each pole and replace them if necessary.
 
This is patently unfair. Why should the latest company coming in to string wires have to pay the entire cost of the pole replacement? Moreover, this is a process that takes forever. At one time, City Light’s backlog to do pole attachment surveys and “make ready” work was over 18 months long.

3. Permits and Rules.

Oh gosh we love permits. Attaching fiber cable to a pole in Seattle may require a pole attachment permit, a street use permit, and land use and environmental permits, among others.
 
And we love rules. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has a hornet’s nest of them. Rule 2-2009, which restricts the size of the cabinets on Seattle right-of-ways that house fiber, is one of the most appalling. Typically, a few fibers from a central location run to the cabinet, and then fiber or copper cables run from the cabinet to each home.
 
SDOT requires that 60 percent of the homeowners within 100 feet of a proposed new cabinet must give written consent to allow the cabinet to be placed in the right-of-way. In many neighborhoods, of course, properties are inhabited by renters, making homeowners very hard to track down.
 
Bill Schrier  |  Bill Schrier is the director of the Digital Communities program and deputy director of the Center for Digital Government at e.Republic.

Bill Schrier is senior policy advisor in the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) at the State of Washington.  In this capacity he chairs the State Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC), serves as the primary point of contact for the FirstNet effort in the state and advises the CIO on other matters.

In the past he served as the Deputy Director of the Center for Digital Government.   He also retired in May, 2012, after over 8 years serving as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the City of Seattle and director of the city's Department of Information Technology (DoIT).  In this capacity he managed over 200 employees and budgets up to $59 million to support city government technology, and reported directly to Mayor Michael McGinn. 

Schrier was named one of Government Technology’s 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers in 2008, and a Computerworld Premier 100 Leader for 2010.  He writes a blog about the intersection of information technology and government, how they sometimes collide but often influence and change each other.   He tweets at www.twitter.com/billschrier

Schrier is a retired officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He holds a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Washington.

E-mail:       bill@schrier.org
Phone:      206-255-2156