Seattle Leads the Way to Strategic Bandwidth Advantage for America

state house gallery

By: Blair Levin and Ellen Satterwhite, Gig.U

When Google began deploying its gigabit-to-the-home, fiber network in Kansas City, many techies watched with envy. The lure of Midwestern kindness, affordable rent and cheap food, combined with world-leading bandwidth at prices equal to far slower options elsewhere has proven so enticing that some have even moved there.

But they don’t have to move to the Midwest just yet; they can spur their hometown to action. Seattle just announced a plan to bring gigabit service to a dozen of its neighborhoods. Once an agreement is signed, the City, the University of Washington and Gigabit Squared–a digital economic development company—plan to build out wireless and wired connectivity to over 100,000 Seattle residents in the span of 24 months.

Seattle’s announcement is significant for its size, but more importantly because it points to a path, with proper strategy and planning, that any community can follow to an upgrade. This project shows how smart use of community assets like rights of way and dark fiber can improve the conditions for investment in next generation networks. Under Mayor McGinn’s leadership, Seattle added and made available additional conduit underground as part of its planned revitalization of the historic Pioneer Square and approved a policy to lease unused capacity from its existing 500 miles of fiber so providers could improve broadband access and services throughout the city.

This forward-leaning approach to digital infrastructure has paid off:  in a recent State by State Broadband Study, Washington State ranked first out of all 50 U.S. states on indicators of broadband adoption, network quality and economic structure. Not only has the infrastructure improved, but, as we found in our study, states actively investing in and utilizing broadband networks are “seeing stronger economic growth, better connected communities and enhanced quality of life.” While Washington benefits from a healthy tech economy, great local leadership such as Seattle has with its Mayor and the University of Washington has with its President has maximized the region’s assets.

Seattle’s leaders are not alone in recognizing that bigger bandwidth is an essential part of overall economic development strategy. Just as in decades past, when communities had to learn how to benefit from new modes of power or transportation–with electrical, train or air terminal facilities–so it is now with bandwidth. Officials in Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri worked with Google, offering streamlined processes and regulatory efficiencies. Mayor Emanuel in Chicago and Mayor Bloomberg in New York City have each recently launched efforts to enhance their cities’ digital future. Thanks to efforts by their local leadership and a commitment to next generation networks, residents in Bristol, Virginia; Chattanooga, Tennessee and Lafayette, Louisiana can already get gigabit speeds. And, several members of Gig.U, a consortium of universities and communities looking to accelerate next generation connectivity in their regions, have announced ultra-high speed broadband projects in the past few months: in Orono and Old Town, Maine; Cleveland, Ohio; Gainesville, Florida; East Lansing, Michigan and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

As analyst Mary Meeker brilliantly demonstrated most recently update, we are moving to an asset-light economy, exchanging atoms for bits. We need to start thinking of our world—and our communities’ opportunities growth—in terms of goods, services… and data. Kansas City, Chattanooga, and now, Seattle, will help us lead in accelerating that transition. In addition to showing what communities have done to ensure their citizens have access to world-leading network, this most recent news means we are closer to discovering the answer to the question: what happens if we eliminate the constraints of bandwidth on innovation?

The University Community Next Generation Innovation Project, or Gig.U, is a broad-based group of over 30 leading research universities from across the United States. Drawing on America’s rich history of community-led innovation in research and entrepreneurship, Gig.U seeks to accelerate the deployment of gigabit speed networks to leading U.S. universities and their surrounding communities. Improvements to these networks drive economic growth and stimulate a new generation of innovations addressing critical needs, such as health care and education. Visit Gig.U online at

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