Politics

Mayor’s race: Comcast vs. faster, cheaper Internet?

gigabitSEATTLE — A story in the Washington Post connecting mayoral hopeful Ed Murray to contributions from Internet provider Comcast set the Internet and the Mike McGinn campaign into a frenzy Wednesday, with some alleging that a vote for Murray may be a vote against faster, cheaper web access in Seattle.

According to the Washington Post, Comcast has donated more than $10,000 dollars to PACs that have given to Murray. The speculation is Comcast hopes to stall a McGinn-backed initiative that would bring faster, cheaper internet to some Seattle neighborhoods with a McGinn loss.

McGinn has proposed a pilot project that would partner the city with Internet service provider Gigabit Squared and the University of Washington to lease a fiber and broadband network lines that provide for superaaccelerated internet.  With the partnership in place, the mayor put in requests to begin the process of offering gigabit speed service to more than 50,000 Seattle households by early 2014.

The gigabit service would cost homes about $45 a month plus a one time installation cost. Comcast currently charges $114.99 a month for a 105 Mbps service in Seattle.

Prior to the Washington Post article, Murray had not vigorously touted cheaper broadband internet as one of his primary concerns in the campaign. Speculation arose — led by McGinn and other online sites such as Reddit — that by indirectly accepting money from Comcast, Murray would slow down any initiative to bring gigabit Internet to other areas of the city.

Murray’s campaign released this statement Friday following the Washington Post’s article:

“A story posted online on the Washington Post web site yesterday incorrectly implies that Ed Murray might not be supportive of citywide high speed broadband because Comcast has contributed to his campaign. As we made clear to the reporter yesterday — and as the article reports — Ed does support the City’s current efforts with Gigabit Squared to create a high speed broadband network. Unfortunately, the article then goes on to speculate that Ed might decide in the future not to support an expansion of the current City plan (to provide service in 14 neighborhoods). That speculation is simply wrong. Ed thinks competition is a good thing, and supports the creation of a citywide high speed broadband network.”

Comcast has denied that money donated to various PACs — such as People for a New Seattle Mayor and Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy — was meant to directly support Murray. The Post article even declined to say that Comcast’s donations were enough to put McGinn out of office. And even if Murray won, Post reporter Andrea Peterson said, Gigabit’s Squared and the city’s plan to bring faster Internet to Seattle would not be halted.

But it could definitely be slowed.

“A loss for McGinn on Tuesday probably won’t mean the end of Gigabit Squared’s work in the Seattle metro area,” Peterson wrote. “Though it could curtail Gigabit Squared’s plans to expand to other parts of Seattle. More importantly, though, if Comcast’s donations help Murray defeat McGinn, it will send a powerful message to mayors in other American cities considering initiatives to increase broadband competition.”

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