In a remarkable announcement today, CenturyLink, formerly known as “the telephone company”, says it will bring gigabit Internet service via a fiber-to-the-home network to Seattle.

Seattle has been left at the altar of fiber-to-the-home high-speed Internet twice before — first by Google and then by Gigabit Squared, which is now being sued by the City of Seattle over their breakup.

Is the third time the charm? Can Seattle Mayor Ed Murray deliver on the gigabit promise that his two predecessors, Mike McGinn and Greg Nickels, could not? Will Seattle actually see serious competition to the price-gouging tactics of the cable monopolies?

A press conference on Tuesday, scheduled 9:15 a.m. at Seattle City Hall, should tell us more.

First, a dose of reality.

CenturyLink does, indeed, plan to introduce a fiber-to-the-home network in Seattle. Meg Andrews of CenturyLink says “this product will be true fiber-to-the-premise/home, not fiber to a box in a neighborhood, then connecting to existing copper wires.”

But it doesn’t exist, yet.

Sue Anderson, Vice-President and General Manager for CenturyLink’s Greater Puget Sound Region says the fiber network will build upon CenturyLink’s existing fiber, and will connect “tens of thousands” of homes in Seattle over the next year or so. Indeed, she says a number of apartment buildings and condo buildings in Seattle are already connected, with gigabit speeds available.

The new gigabit service will be available soon to single family homes in “the neighborhoods of Ballard, West Seattle, the Central District and Beacon Hill,” according to Anderson, although she won’t give a specific map or timeframe for the rollout, other than “now into 2015”.

The gigabit service will be “symmetrical”, which means the same billion-bits-per-second both to each home (download) and from each home (upload). This contrasts with current cable companies, which advertise 50 or 100 megabits per second (Mbps), but split that speed with 50 or 100 or more homes in a neighborhood.  Anderson urges Seattleites to sign up for notifications about the service at this website.

Priced at $79.99 a month with a 12-month commitment and a “bundle”, which Andrews says would include home phone and long-distance service, CenturyLink’s pricing will be comparable to gigabit internet offered by Google in Kansas City.

Gigabit will only be available in “select neighborhoods” of Seattle, not in other areas of the region which CenturyLink serves, such as Bellevue.

This announcement is definitely an expansion of CenturyLink’s network. Anderson says 40 Mbps and 100 Mbps service have been available to some homes and apartment buildings in Seattle for some time, and the gigabit fiber service is available to many businesses throughout the region. But these services run over an older network of fiber cables to a distribution box in the neighborhood and then over copper wires to individual homes. The new announcement is true fiber cable to individual homes and premises.

CenturyLink appears to have the wherewithal to deliver on their announcement. They own or co-own (with Seattle City Light) 100,000 utility poles in Seattle. They have copper telephone wires to virtually every one of 320,000 homes, businesses and apartments. They already offer the gigabit service in Omaha, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Today’s announcement includes not just Seattle, but at least 9 other cities, as shown in the map.

So, could the City of Seattle screw this up again?

Seattle has certainly tried to over-regulate in the past. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has a Directors’ Rule which requires any company putting a telecommunications cabinet in the right-of-way (parking strip) to get the explicit approval of 60 percent of homeowners who live within 100 feet of such cabinets. That’s a high bar in some neighborhoods, where many homes are rented, and homeowners might live in Tukwila or Timbuktu.

This article originally appeared on Crosscut.com, a daily news site dedicated to creating a thriving and sustainable Northwest through its coverage of political, cultural and business issues.

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