Comcast puts money on Seattle mayor’s opponent

McGinn pledges broadband expansion

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One of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s chief promises during his re-election campaign this year has been to expand the quality and quantity of high-speed Internet access in the city.

Seattle launched a partnership with Ohio-based Gigabit Squared last year to offer faster Internet access in a 14-neighborhood pilot project. That should be expanded to the rest of the city in partnerships with more companies, McGinn has told voters.

Two of the city’s incumbent Internet providers, including Comcast, are investing in McGinn’s rival in Tuesday’s mayoral election.

Comcast, one of the country’s largest cable companies, has given thousands of dollars to political action committees that have, in turn, given to anti-McGinn groups. Money from the company and one of its executives has also ended up in McGinn’s rival’s war chest.

Comcast did not specifically comment on Seattle’s broadband proposal, but in a statement, the company denied that there is any link between McGinn’s broadband policies and the company’s political donations.

McGinn’s chief opponent, state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, will honor the city’s existing contracts for the pilot project, but has not taken a stand on whether to expand the network, according to his spokesman, Sandeep Kaushik.

The city began installing fiber optic lines in 1995, and now, McGinn’s office said, there are about 535 miles of it, only a fraction of which are being used. The city considered establishing a public utility that would provide Internet service, but determined it was too expensive and opted instead for a public-private partnership, according to McGinn’s office.

So far, the partnership with Gigabit Squared is farthest along, but the city hopes to strike agreements with other providers, McGinn’s office said.

Gigabit Squared is still finalizing plans with the city. The company will begin offering ultra-high-speed service to communities with a combined population of 50,000 early next year, said Mark Ansboury, co-founder of Gigabit Squared.

In June, Gigabit Squared announced pricing for its service in Seattle: $45 dollars a month for 100 megabit-per-second service, about 10 times faster than the speeds offered to a typical home user, or $80 a month for 1 gigabit-per-second service, about 100 times faster than what most home users have. A one-time installation cost of $350 is waived for customers who sign a one-year contract. For comparison, Comcast, one of the primary Internet providers in the area, offers 105 megabit service in the area for $114.99 a month according to its website. (It is unclear whether there is an installation charge.)

Ansboury said he thinks Gigabit Squared’s project will continue regardless of who wins the mayoral election. He supports McGinn, calling him an “avid supporter of broadband and fiber services.”