Seattle is the latest city to go around ISPs to get a gigabit network

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Seattle has teamed up with Gigabit Squared, a startup that wants to invest $200 million in building gigabit broadband networks in six college towns around the country, to build a gigabit network. Seattle, which has its own city-owed dark fiber network, and Gigabit Squared have signed a Memorandum of Understanding and a Letter of Intent that will allow Gigabit Squared to begin raising the capital needed to conduct engineering work and to build out the demonstration fiber network.

There are three parts to the network, a fiber-to-home element that will reach 50,000 homes in 12 Seattle neighborhoods. The network will also take advantage of point-to-point wireless, which companies such as WebPass are using, as well as offer some kind of mobile broadband service as well. From the release:

To provide initial coverage beyond the 12 demonstration neighborhoods, Gigabit Seattle intends to build a dedicated gigabit broadband wireless umbrella to cover Seattle providing point-to-point radio access up to one gigabit per second. This will be achieved by placing fiber transmitters on top of 38 buildings across Seattle. These transmitters can beam fiber internet to multifamily housing and offices across Seattle, even those outside the twelve demonstration neighborhoods, as long as they are in a line of sight. Internet service would be delivered to individual units within a building through existing wiring. This wireless coverage can provide network and Internet services to customers that do not have immediate access to fiber in the city.

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This will be Gigabit Squared’s second fiber commitment under an arrangement it has with the Gig.U project headed by Blair Levin. Levin, who led the efforts to write the National Broadband Plan, formed Gig.U to make sure the U.S. maintains a competitive edge in broadband infrastructure. His idea is to build gigabit networks in U.S. college towns so students and researchers can keep up with the broadband speeds that other countries are developing.

Gigabit Squared’s first commitment was in Chicago, which it announced in October. Chicago had already announced a plan to dig trenches for fiber-to-the-home service as part of an upgrade to the city’s utilities, so Gigabit Squared probably saw a willing municipal partner and jumped.

What’s fascinating about all of these models is that they are bypassing traditional ISPs, such as the telcos and cable firms to build out city-specific programs where the municipality and a private company work together to build out the network. Google took this same approach in Kansas City when it chose that town for its Google Fiber deployment. And lest other municipalities feel left out (ahem, Austin!!) Google said this week that it would expand Google Fiber to more cities, while Gigabit Squared still has four more towns left if it follows its original plan.

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