Devin Glaser from Upgrade Seattle wears a devilish ethernet cord on his head. Photo by Chetanya Robinson

Activists Stage Slow March for Fast Public Internet at City Hall

Kshama Sawant and Rob Johnson are trying to breathe new life into muni-broadband.

A handful of activists staged a “Slow Internet Walk” from the Comcast’s downtown office to City Hall to protest slow internet speeds in Seattle, and to call for municipal broadband—city-run internet—as the solution.

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.”

The mission of Upgrade Seattle and activists is to press the city to build a municipal broadband network that would be run as a public utility — sort of like what Seattle City Light already does, but for broadband. Like many major cities, Seattle’s internet is operated by large for-profit corporations like Comcast, CenturyLink, and Wave. Those calling for municipal broadband to Seattle see it as an equity issue.

“This is something that actually is critical for families,” said Laura Bernstein, an activist with the Seattle “Yes in My Backyard” urbanist movement who joined the walk on City Hall. “I used to be a teacher—I think that kids that have access to the internet at home, it’s another way to be set up for success, and if you don’t have that internet access you’re not on a level playing field.”

In the lobby of City Hall, the activists met with city councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Rob Johnson, who jointly proposed an amendment to the city budget that would allocate $300,000 to municipal broadband last Monday. The money would pay for a 10-year implementation plan. Glaser presented the two councilmembers with handmade awards made out of CDs.

“Municipal broadband is something we all agree on, working people, small businesses,” Sawant said. Sawant was met with a loud cheer when she finished her remarks with “Let’s keep fighting.”

Glaser from Upgrade Seattle wore a crown made of cables on his head, with the two ends sticking like devil horns. Around his neck he carried a router.

“It’s actually been a really great two-week period for municipal broadband,” he said. Glaser cited not only Sawant and Johnson’s amendment, but also the fact that, on October 17, the City Council unanimously approved the City’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan for the next 20 years, which included a dedication to broadband.

“It’s a commitment, it’s putting it into our DNA as a city,” Glaser said.

Sawant and Johnson’s amendment will still need to be approved by Tim Burgess for the budget. If it isn’t approved, Glaser said Upgrade Seattle and the activists will put pressure on City Council members to vote on it separately, with the hope that at least five will. And if it’s passed, he believes, it will be a step forward toward figuring out the ins and outs of how municipal broadband will actually work.

“Say next year there’s a new federal grant from a new presidency who’s putting money into cities again, we would actually say, ‘Hey we could take that money and we have a product for it…We actually know day one, week one who’s got a job, who’s hiring, where we’re building.”

A city study conducted in 2015 concluded that building municipal broadband would cost between $480 and $665 million, which was deemed too expensive to build while staying within budget. However, Glaser points to another finding from the study — that a majority of Seattleites would support it.

“So people already want this and they should be reminded that it’s an option, because the political will is there and the imagination’s there, it’s just connecting those dots for people.”

If Seattle does build a municipal broadband network, it would be the largest city to achieve this. Only small towns like Chattanooga, Tennessee and Cedar Falls, Illinois, have succeeded.

“We would set a precedent,” Glaser said. “It fits Seattle’s reputation as an innovative city.”

More in News & Comment

South King Fire helps local animal rescue with puppy transport

Seattle-based nonprofit Resilient Hearts Animal Sanctuary helps rescue and re-home animals from high risk situations and fosters loving relationships along the way.

If passed, Senate Bill 6254 would limit the nicotine concentration of vape products, ban certain flavoring chemicals and require vape manufacturers, distributors and retailers to obtain licenses from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. File photo
Lawmakers propose sweeping regulations for vaping industry

Bill supporters cite concerns over health issues and teen use.

Former Todd Beamer High School nurse charged with child rape, sexual misconduct of 3 students

51-year-old Mark David Glenn, of Auburn, posted bail and was released from jail.

Honks, waves, flags and flowers for Everett’s tattooed patriot

Fans have been honoring Samiu Bloomfield, who died Sunday, at his favorite corner on Broadway.

Twin sisters do makeover magic to local homes in HGTV series

New “Unsellable Houses” focuses on transforming modest Snohomish County homes into hot properties.

A proposal by Senate Democrats would require concealed pistol license applicants in Washington state to complete a safety course. File photo
Democrats seek firearm training requirement for concealed carriers

Republican senator calls proposal ‘unconstitutional.’

Snohomish County man is first U.S. case of new coronavirus

A man in his 30s was hospitalized in Everett after contracting the virus during a trip to China.

Matt Marshall, leader of the Washington Three Percenters gun rights group, addresses a crowd rallying for Second Amendment rights Jan. 17 at the state Capitol in Olympia. Marshall condemned Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, which expelled Rep. Matt Shea from the Republican Caucus. Marshall announced his candidacy for the 2nd District seat held by House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox. Photo by Cameron Sheppard, WNPA News Service
Gun rights advocates rally at Capitol

Criticism levied at Matt Shea investigation, Republican leadership.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (center) announced a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson in a press conference Jan. 2. Debbie Warfield of Everett (left) lost her son to a heroin overdose in 2012. Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki (right) lost her son to an overdose of OxyContin in 2017. They are joined by Rep. Lauren Davis of Shoreline (second from right), founder of the Washington Recovery Alliance. (TVW screenshot)
AG Bob Ferguson talks lawsuits, gun control

Washington state Attorney General stopped by Sound Publishing’s Kirkland office.

Most Read