Once upon a time, it was strictly formal dress for sunrise.
The company that sold magically cheap fiber and a business case built on fairy dust to Seattle, then left town owing fifty grand is in even bigger trouble in Chicago. The state of Illinois gave Gigabit Squared a $2 million grant to deploy “ultra high speed” Internet access on the city’s south side and, to say the least, isn’t seeing results, according to a story in the Chicago Sun-Times (h/t to the Baller-Herbst list for the pointer)…
Gigabit Squared, a Cincinnati-based company that last May touted the high-speed project in nine South Side communities, “has lied repeatedly” about its intentions and may have spent only $250,000 of the grant money for legitimate purposes, said David Roeder, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which issued the grant.
To clear the air the state is inviting Gigabit Squared to an “informal hearing”, which in Chicago-speak is the semantic equivalent of a casual firing squad. The company has until 10 April to RSVP. So far, no direct reply, but the Sun-Times article includes a statement from Gigabit Squared that’s a wonderful mix of disingenuity and bewilderment. Translation: the dog ate the paperwork.
I’m not close enough to either the Seattle or the Chicago project to speculate on whether the failures were the product of ignorant and incompetent management or premeditated fraud or something else. Whatever the reason, the result is a couple of bloody black eyes for legitimate municipal broadband advocates, which is not helpful to our cause. My advice to cities approached by broadband rainmakers beating a drum: if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
Running with the bull.
Gigabit Seattle will quickly fade away in the new year, judging by the lost faith of its most prominent cheerleader, outgoing mayor Mike McGinn. In an interview with GeekWire, McGinn expressed the sort of caring doubt politicians use to distance themselves from, say, a blood relative who’s been busted for indecent familiarity with farm animals for the third time…
“We’re now a year into it and the question is, will it work or not?” McGinn said inside his office at City Hall. He acknowledged that he’s ”very concerned it’s not going to work.”
Elected four years ago on a platform that included broadband for all, McGinn was unable to gain traction for a municipally owned fiber-to-the-home system. Last December, with less than year to go before his reelection contest, he threw a Hail Mary press conference with the University of Washington and a crew of former apparatchiks who were long on talk but short on money and experience.
They promised a pay-as-you-go network, that would begin with 12 pilot neighborhoods and then build out to the rest of the city, at “no risk to the taxpayer”. As I wrote at the time, the short answer as to whether that’s credible is no. The long answer is hell no.
The Seattle mayoral campaign heated up over the summer and the evident emptiness of McGinn’s FTTH promise became an issue. The only fundraising success that Gigabit Seattle, or its parent company, Gigabit Squared, achieved was to motivate Comcast to give $12,000 to challenger and eventual winner, state senator Ed Murray.
Those involved might have sincerely believed they could pull it off. But looking back over the past year, there’s little to distinguish Gigabit Seattle from a cynical political stunt.