An update on the status of a fiber-to-the-home network in Seattle

Rebroadcast from Mayor Murray’s Blog:

As some of you may have recently read, Mayor Murray sat down with the Puget Sound Business Journal and one of the topics discussed was the status of the City’s partnership with technology company Gigabit Squared. The deal, overseen by former Mayor Mike McGinn, would have allowed the company to lease parts of the city’s fiber optic network in order to bring high-speed Internet to residents of Seattle.

In November 2013 – prior to Mayor Murray taking office on January 1, 2014 – Gigabit Squared let the McGinn administration know they were having difficulties securing funding to bring the project to fruition. Due to that lack of private investment funding, Gigabit Squared, which has not yet delivered a broadband system in any city during their five years in business, could not continue their work. In addition, Gigabit Squared still owes the City of Seattle $52,250 for services provided to them by the City, including engineering fiber routes, conducting preliminary assessments for their wireless infrastructure, and permit planning.

The City is now at a crossroads and a new fiber strategy needs to be, and will be, explored.

In 2004, a citizen’s task force recommended the City pursue fiber instead of citywide Wi-Fi and, since that time, two administrations have explored ways to build fiber broadband. While this initiative has encountered a speed bump along the way, please be assured that access to a fiber-to-the-home network in Seattle is not “dead” as has been reported over the last few days. The Mayor is committed to improving the infrastructure of this city and that includes improving the connectivity of its residents. The Mayor is also deeply committed to the affordability of this city and will ask that any other options pursued do not further contribute to the economic divide in Seattle.

Please stay tuned for more information on this issue in the coming weeks.

Is this the end of the internet as we know it?

On January 14, 2014, the DC Court of Appeals struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Open Internet rules. Many are concerned that this decision spells the end of network neutrality. Network Neutrality means that ISPs, such as Comcast and CenturyLink, treat all Internet traffic equally regardless of the content, source, or destination of the data and cannot block web sites containing lawful content. There is a real fear that ISPs will now treat their own content favorably or charge users of the Internet, such as Netflix, a fee for ensuring that Netflix content is not slower than content owned by or affiliated with an ISP. This would lead to a two-tiered Internet where only the big content owners have a fast lane while independent sources of content and applications and even dissenting opinions will be harder to reach through the Internet. For a humorous but informative take on the potential harms from the loss of Open Internet rules check out this video clip from Stephen Colbert.

The decision was a clear setback for the public interest but there is reason for optimism. While the court ruled that the FCC cannot enforce most of its Open Internet rules, it affirmed the FCC’s broad authority to preserve an open Internet. Confused? What the court said was that since FCC had in 2002 classified Internet Access as an “Information” service and not a “Telecommunications” service, it lacked legal authority to apply telecommunications regulations like no content blocking or network neutrality to a service it said was not a telecommunications service. It seems like the FCC has only itself to blame. The FCC can still act but it needs to do so in a different way (unless it chooses to reclassify Internet access as a telecommunications service). However, the court left in place one important component of the Open Internet rules that require ISPs to be transparent about their network management practices and the commercial terms for broadband service. Presumably the FCC will ensure that if any discrimination in data transport occurs, it will be based on legitimate network practices, as opposed to an attempt to favor some forms of content over others.

Comcast subscribers should know that despite the court’s order, Comcast is still bound by the FCC’s Open Internet rules for about another 4 years. That is because as a condition to gain approval of its buyout of NBC, Comcast agreed that it would abide by the FCC rules for 7 years despite any court order vacating those rules. Another favorable aspect of the ruling is that one of the three judges strongly suggested that the FCC has the authority to preempt any state laws that bar a municipality from constructing and operating a broadband network.

So what’s next? It is quite possible that ISPs will begin to test new business models predicated on premium speed deals with some content providers. If so the FCC has a few options. Among them it could appeal the decision; it can also reclassify Internet service as a telecommunications service, which is the preferred option because it makes the rules clear to all. Many telecom attorneys believe that in the short term the FCC will act as the cop on the beat and handle any transport discrimination complaints on a case-by-case basis to ensure that ISPs do not harm the Internet as we know it. Stay tuned.

Internet safety and kids

Keeping kids safe while online is everyone’s job. Through Get Net Wise, you will find an Online Safety Guide, safety tips for kids, teens and families, and gain a better understand of the risks that youth face when online. There are tools that break down safety concerns and consideration by age and kid-friendly sites as well. Get Net Wise is endorsed by the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, otherwise known as US-CERT, a trusted global leader in cybersecurity.

Dates for Technology Matching Fund grants announced

The City of Seattle has announced dates for the 2014 Technology Matching Fund grant cycle, awarding $320,000 in matching grants of up to $20,000 per project to increase technology literacy or use of technology tools for civic engagement for Seattle residents. The deadline to apply is March 12.

Important dates for grant applicants:

February 24 to 28, draft application review sessions
If you are interested in having us review your draft application, or have questions about your project, please contact us to set up your draft proposal review:

  • Technology Access & Literacy: Delia Burke 206-233-2751, delia.burke@seattle.gov
  • Civic Engagement: Vicky Yuki 206-233-7877, vicky.yuki@seattle.gov

March 12, Technology Matching Fund application deadline

The City is encouraging applications for community-based civic engagement projects that build the digital skills of our residents, raise awareness of city resources online and use the internet, social media and/or mobile devices for community engagement and interaction with government.

For more information on the Technology Matching Fund, including history and success stories, visit seattle.gov/tech/tmf, email communitytechnology@seattle.gov or call Delia Burke at 206-233-2751.

Community Technology’s new website

Tech site

Our Community Technology Program web site has a new look and feel. Here you will find useful tools and resources that bridge digital literacy, available funding opportunities and partnerships, and research to help guide your organization in your digital inclusion work.  We have broken down the site into four categories to make it simple to navigate: For Everyone, For Your Organization, Research and Publications and About Us.  Visit seattle.gov/tech to browse around the site and feel free to tell us what you think.

Seniors training seniors computer classes now offered at five locations

Registration is now open for anyone 50 and over for “personal growth” computer classes, held February through April. Humor, patience, and fun are included in all classes. Classes are held at the Belltown, Greenwood, Lake City, Southeast Seattle and Wallingford Senior Centers. For more information or to register for these classes taught by volunteer seniors, contact Patti-Lyn Bell at (206) 684-0639 or by email at patricia.bell@seattle.gov.

 

Digital documents for the homeless

springwire_2
Have you ever misplaced an important piece of paper, like a birth certificate or an identification card?  A hassle, yes, but not that big a deal. Now imagine if you were homeless. People struggling with homelessness are routinely asked to show documentation in order to access services. However, this documentation is easily lost or destroyed, and it is often difficult and costly to produce the information needed when it’s needed most.

Seattle nonprofit, Springwire, worked to address this problem with a 2012 Tech Matching Fund grant, the “Online Document Access for the homeless” project.  Over the course of a year, Springwire offered scanning services to homeless individuals  at events in Seattle, including multi-day events at the Seattle Public Library, Community Resource Exchange and Financial Fitness Day, as well as individual events at the Urban Rest Stop and Youth Care. Volunteers succeeded in helping 65 homeless men and women digitize their vital papers.

For many clients, the impact of knowing their information was secure was immediate and profound. One Springwire client carried hundreds of pages of handwritten documents that formed the basis of a book she was writing about her life. She had been fearful of moving them into a digital format because as a survivor of domestic violence, she was worried about her abuser finding them. It took a long time to scan them. They were fragile, on wrinkled paper in all shapes and sizes. Once Springwire volunteers transferred her files to a USB flash drive, you could see the joy and relief on her face knowing that her life story was now protected.

Integrating digital document preservation into services provided for the homeless is a model Springwire hopes to continue.  They shared the program design and training materials developed during the pilot to Catholic Community Services for use the King County Coordinated Entry program.

For more information, contact Andrea John Smith andreajs@springwire.us .