Upgrade Seattle honored as part of Seattle's New Left

The Seattle Weekly put together a great feature on Seattle's New Left, and we were honored to be included among such great civic minds:

"Just like those advocating for rent control or better transit, Upgrade Seattle’s ultimate goal is to make Seattle more affordable and equitable—in its case by providing cheaper, better broadband that ensures everyone in the city has access to it. And just like those other causes, their biggest hurdle is those who benefit from the economic structure as it stands."

“We’re all really committed to making Seattle a better place to live, but also a just place to live,” Devin Glaser, policy and political director of Upgrade Seattle, says of the new left. “What we’ve seen is a lot of behind-the-scenes pressure in the form of PAC spending, lobbying. Comcast has been the number-one contributor to various political campaigns. What they’re really trying to do is push against the attack on their bottom line.” To fight back, Upgrade Seattle has also used the power of the people, seizing on the fact that Comcast is really unpopular.

Upgrade Seattle has thus made a point of getting every City Council candidate on the record about public broadband, and have recently seen some measured victories—specifically the addition of municipal broadband to the city’s 20-year master plan (efforts to actually fund it have been less successful). Glaser says he only expects Council support to increase as more new members—who haven’t been subjected to years of Comcast lobbying—come on board.

 

What Company Spent the Most Lobbying City Hall? Comcast.

George Howland from Outside City Hall put together a great piece on the comfy relationship between Comcast's Top Lobbyist and Seattle's Mayor:

"In 2016, Comcast had no significant legislation before the city council. Councilmember Harrell, who continues to chair the city council committee assigned to technology, states, “In 2016, I cannot recall meeting with any representative from Comcast.”

So why was Comcast spending heavily to lobby the city council last year?

Comcast’s agenda: street restoration or stopping public Internet?

Walter Neary, Comcast Senior Director for Communications in Washington, states, “Comcast has worked closely with the city on utility coordination and street restoration requirements as we make investments in infrastructure and technological improvements for the benefit of our customers in Seattle such as 1 Gig Internet speeds planned for later this year.”

Yet, “utility coordination” and “street restoration” are not normally subject to city council approval. “Utility coordination and street restoration requirements are delegated to the [mayor] to administer,” says a city council spokesperson. “Specific plans do not come to council for formal action, unless there is actual right-of-way or property rights being transferred.”

 

The Slow Internet March Marches On

Yesterday's Slow Internet March inspired onlookers and clearly one the hearts and minds of the local press.  Check out our coverage in:

The Seattle Weekly:

"It wasn’t your average march, at least in terms of speed. “It took us over an hour to walk what should have been 20 minutes,” said Devin Glaser, Policy and Political Director of Upgrade Seattle, a campaign for equitable public internet, who joined the group of activists on the slow, rainy trek to City Hall. “But I think we’re all used to that experience when you’re expecting something to come quickly and then it downloads slow, it stops, it stalls, it fails on you.”

 

KOMO:

"Sawant is one of two council members trying to get money in the budget to explore a possible municipal broadband pilot project. She and councilman Rob Johnson were presented with handcrafted awards, thanking them for their efforts"

 

KIRO:

"They walked from Comcast’s downtown office on Westlake Avenue to Seattle City Hall, where they thanked City Council members Kshama Sawant and Rob Johnson. Sawant and Johnson introduced a budget amendment this week that would put $300,000 toward creating a business plan for a municipal broadband pilot project."

Slow Walk to Protest Slow Internet

On October 26th Upgrade Seattle joined comedian Brett Hamil and a group of fed up Seattle residents who were tired of paying high fees for substandard, slow internet service.

The group marched very, very, very slowly to protest very, very, very slow speeds. Of course it had to be raining.

We culminated the march at City Hall where we awarded our first ever "Municipal Broadband Champion" awards to Councilmembers Rob Johnson and Kshama Sawant, who just two days earlier put forward a budget amendment to to create a shovel-ready municipal broadband plan.

Thanks to Elliot Stoller for coming to the March and capturing everything on video.

Is internet access a social justice issue?

The Seattle Globalist's Reagan Jackson on the problems with Comcast's Internet Essentials:

“It was an extremely confusing process and I just gave up,” Jamie Rose Edwards co-director of Y-WE stated. “I had good communication with somebody at the City who was helping me through the application process, filled out what was a very extensive application from the City to prove that we were eligible. They communicated to me by phone that we had been approved.”

Despite being approved the internet never arrived.

“It was extraordinarily frustrating. Our entire staff chose to work from home or from coffee shops or the library because we had access to internet there,” said Edwards. “We couldn’t get very much done. We couldn’t work efficiently without internet.”

Seattlish Op-Ed: AG Bob Ferguson Is The Hero We Deserve

From Upgrade Seattle's own Devin Glaser:

"Make no mistake: Comcast is a bad actor. Consumer Reports recently called the company a “bottom dweller” when it came to customer satisfaction. Yet the company continually posts profits year after year because residents have no real alternative. Your choice of internet provider depends on your address, with most people finding they have at most two options, while some neighborhoods still have none.  

How did we get here? While most utilities benefit from natural monopolies, Comcast has a long history of working to rig the rules of the game to ensure they face no real competition.  The company liberally gives money to elected officials across the political spectrum, and has teamed up with industry allies to create statewide restrictions in 19 states preventing public competition (don’t worry Seattle, you’re exempt). As evidence of their profligate spending, they even gave money to their current nemesis, champion of the people Bob Ferguson.

Money I’m betting Comcast wishes they could take back.

Money I’m betting Comcast wishes they could take back.

 

 

 

 

Which is what makes Monday’s lawsuit all the more admirable. But while the Consumer Protection Act protects Washington residents from deceptive practices, it doesn’t contain any teeth when it comes to straight up unaffordable bills. Comcast isn’t allowed to trick customers into paying higher fees, but there’s nothing preventing them from just raising everyone’s rates by $5 a month."

 

 

Municipal Broadband Advocates say Comcast lawsuit proves need for public internet service

From Geekwire's Taylor Soper:

"Sawant, a former software engineer who was elected to the Seattle City Council as a socialist candidate in January 2014, has been a long-time advocate for a municipal broadband network in the Emerald City.

“The purpose of a public internet utility is to provide high-speed, affordable and equitable internet coverage to all Seattle neighborhoods, residents, and businesses,” she wrote last year. “Municipal broadband can be a powerful lever against the digital divide that condemns people to the isolation and reduced economic opportunities experienced by many of our low-income, disabled, and people of color community members.”

She added: “We should expect Comcast and CenturyLink to go to every length to keep their unchallenged duopoly in Seattle.”

Devin Glaser, policy and political director of a grassroots group campaigning for a city-owned broadband network called Upgrade Seattle, told GeekWire that “Comcast’s Service Protection Plan was nothing more than $5 a month of 21st Century snake oil, and the Attorney General’s lawsuit is the kind of work we’d like to see from all of our elected officials.”

More from Glaser:

At the end of the day Ferguson’s move is a great offense but what subscribers really need is a good defense. Comcast tricked subscribers into paying $5 more a month through deceptive practices, but there’s no real mechanism in place preventing Comcast from simply charging higher prices in the first place. The majority of Comcast’s victims still have no alternative for reliable access to the internet, which is why Upgrade Seattle is still working to create a robust public option that doesn’t rely on a for-profit motive. Seattle residents are tired of sending their money to Philadelphia when it could be used to invest in a local network here in our community.

Mayor Doubles Down on Refusal to Build Municipal Broadband Internet Network

From The Stranger's Ansel Herz:

"What Murray is really saying is that he doesn't consider broadband to be a priority. Last fall, the mayor himself spearheaded the push for the largest-ever property tax levy in the city's history: Move Seattle, with a price tag of $930 million. Voters approved it.

The study that Murray mentioned determined that Seattle could construct a high speed network using a combination of property taxes and user fees for $440 million. The mayor—who received big donations from Comcast and CenturyLink during his last campaign—simply lacks the political will to advocate for building such a network at this time.

The officials who followed Murray on to the stage for a panel on municipal broadband couldn't have been more different: They were mayors and city councillors from around the region who had the foresight and tenacity to create fiber municipal broadband networks in their cities.

"We have a three month waiting list," said Jeremy Pietzold, the city council head from Sandy, Oregon, a town of ten thousand people. "We just cannot get them connected fast enough." His city went into debt and took out revenue bonds to build their fiber Internet network. (That's another economic model that Murray rejected.) The city is already breaking even on the venture; the network's popularity is exceeding expectations."

 

Mayor Murray: Municipal broadband too costly; public-private deal is way to go

From the Seattle Times' Rachel Lerman:

"Some residents and interest groups have long pushed for a city-run broadband network, saying it would be less expensive than services from private providers and would help reduce access inequality, known as “the digital divide.”

In Seattle, 93,000 homes — about 15 percent of the city’s households — don’t have access to the Internet. Many are occupied by people with low incomes, the mayor said.

A municipal network could help bridge that divide by offering high-speed, affordable Internet access across the city, said Devin Glaser, a policy analyst with Upgrade Seattle, which is working to muster support for a city-run network."

Advocacy Group Aims to Eliminate the Digital Divide

From City Art's Gemma Wilson:

"On April 9, one of our city's ever-present construction crews was working in South Lake Union when a single Comcast cable was accidentally severed.  Instantly, more than 30,000 people in Capitol Hill and Madison Park were cut off from Internet service, some of them unable to get online or call 911 for an entire day. It was also the day that Upgrade Seattle's website went live, rallying support for municipal broadband - fast Internet access as an affordable City-owned and operated utility."