These Are the Things Mayor Murray Says CenturyLink Should Be Allowed To Install Without Public Comment

Refrigerator-sized utility cabinets

Refrigerator-sized utility cabinets like these may be coming to a planting strip near you if CenturyLink has its way.

As I wrote about a few months back on Slog, CenturyLink has long argued that its efforts to upgrade broadband speeds throughout the city have been hampered by regulations requiring neighboring homeowners to give their approval before installing refrigerator-sized utility boxes on city-owned sidewalks, planting strips, and alleys. These utility boxes—like the ones pictured above, just a couple blocks from my house—are unquestionably both an eyesore and a graffiti target. But CenturyLink says that 21,000 households would have access to faster broadband speeds today, had they the freedom to to liberally plop these down throughout the city.

And that’s a freedom that Mayor Ed Murray now says he’s ready to bestow. Um… hooray?

Look at the utility cabinets above. Now picture them installed on the planting strip in front of your house. Now honestly ask yourself whether you and your neighbors should have zero say in how and where they are installed?

Some residents of Beacon Hill and other underserved neighborhoods had been asking for a pilot program that would have suspended these regulations in certain neighborhoods, just to see how things worked. But the mayor’s proposal would apparently eliminate these regulations altogether. And CenturyLink says it will take that as an opportunity install 349 cabinets in the first year alone.

That could provide welcome broadband upgrades to thousands of Seattleites. Which is good. But it would also create hundreds of new eyesores. (Of course, CenturyLink could alternatively install these cabinets underground or on utility poles, or pay homeowners to install them on private property, but that would cost more money, so no go.)

Personally, I support the notion of a pilot program. But completely eliminating the current restrictions without getting any binding promises back from CenturyLink just strikes me as regulatory giveaway and recipe for some very disgruntled homeowners.


  1. 1

    Chris Stefan spews:

    I don’t understand why CenturyLink needs so many huge boxes. Other carriers are able to use pole mounted boxes or fewer boxes on the ground.

    For that matter I wouldn’t object to the boxes as such if they were part of a municipally owned broadband utility.

    BTW Comcast’s franchise agreement is up in 2016. Ask the city council to consider telling Comcast to shove off in favor of City owned municipal broadband. At the very least the city should demand heavy concessions on customer service, pricing, and speed upgrades.

    For those who think the city can’t be successful at running their own broadband utility just look at Tacoma or the Grant County PUD (fastest average internet speeds in the country BTW)

  2. 2


    What the Seattle Times article fails to mention is that this isn’t a giveaway to CenturyLink. We (UPTUN) and the North Beacon Hill Council, plus about 120 other cosigners asked the city to push the pilot project through.

    The proposed rules change is after a bunch of stakeholder meetings with the City, the providers, groups like UPTUN, etc.

    This isn’t a giveaway to CenturyLink… it’s leveling the playing field and ensuring the cable providers must adhere to this rule too. Currently, the cable providers don’t have to get any sort of input when they install their equipment boxes. In fact, it came as a surprise to the city that they installed a box up in Magnolia (I think it was Magnolia), and nobody every commented or complained about it. The cable providers aren’t covered under the existing director’s rule.

    Also, the picture you’re showing is an older equipment configuration. What is going to be deployed is only the piece of equipment on the left side of the picture, which is a CoolPed broadband cabinet. The other piece of equipment is an older cross-connect box.

  3. 3


    Chris, the cable franchise agreements don’t cover anything internet related… it’s strictly about television over cable. I think there’s probably a little that can be done to influence Comcast with the negotiations, but the city can’t even enforce rates because of the regulations that are in place (I believe these are federal).

    Also, the other carriers require some boxes on the ground, some equipment up on the poles. Have you visited the neighborhood streets of Beacon Hill lately? I’m starting to see all sorts of cabinets, splitters, etc. starting to clutter my skyline.

    Municipal broadband should be discussed, but a study the city commissioned about a decade ago had the cost at around $600+ million. It’s only going to be more expensive today. If anything happens here, we’re talking about something that’s at least a few years off from being deployed. In the mean-time, I don’t think we should halt progress and speed upgrades from the existing providers.

    Tacoma’s Click network isn’t exactly a success story. Here are the average speeds in Tacoma, according to Ookla (
    Comcast 30.01
    CenturyLink 12.43
    Click! Network 12.16
    Verizon Wireless 10.42
    Clear Wireless 3.88
    Sprint PCS 3.04

    Unfortunately, Click is bleeding subscribers and their average speeds are even below CenturyLink’s.

  4. 4

    Perfect Voter spews:

    Totally misleading photo you put up, Goldy. Those are NOT the boxes that CenturyLink wants to install, to enable broadband competition with Comcast. The real ones are much smaller, and they are installed as single units, not clusters.

    Are you purposely trying to mislead your readers, Goldy? Truth and accuracy don’t matter at all, in your worldview?

  5. 5

    phil spews:

    @3 the money quote

    There is little question Tacomans benefited from Click. It helped the area get high-speed Internet access before much-larger and wealthier areas. Even today, its presence forces Comcast to keep rates lower than elsewhere. It also means customers can get Comcast’s added bells and whistles at Click prices.

    It also sounded like the cable TV part of Click was hurting the most, because of increased station fees. A problem with all cable providers. Could be solved with a la cart offerings.

    A Seattle network could take advantage of the latest and greatest. It would offer much needed competition. Using wireless on poles, instead of house to house connections, would control costs.

  6. 7


    @5… Yes, I’d love ala carte options, but that’s actually something controlled at the federal level. I know there were some bills thrown around the US House last year, but I’m not sure what became of those.

  7. 8

    Perfect Voter spews:

    @6, like the top one on the Dudley blog post (with foliage graphic) only smaller. The two large boxes Dudley shows are on private property, not city street right-of-way, and they will be screened from view. And the larger boxes include phone service as well as broadband.

    It’s not hard to find the truth about what CenturyLink wants to roll out to enable broadband competition in Seattle. I’m confident the company would email photos if asked.

    Do the media just not care about the facts, the details? Or are there other agendas at work?

  8. 9

    ArtFart spews:

    And what’s to say that if the city launched a municipal broadband project, that whoever they contracted to do the infrastructure work wouldn’t install similar cabinets?

    As I understand it, one of the main incentives for going the muni route is that downtown and other parts of the city have a large amount of “dark fiber” that was run before the dot-com implosion and then forgotten. That doesn’t cover most residential neighborhoods, and even where there is a bunch of fiber underground or on the poles there still has to be something installed to finish the connection to individual residences and businesses.

  9. 11

    Haganah spews:

    Just say that they are part of a public art project, and liberals will drool all over them…problem solved.

  10. 12


    @6: I contacted CenturyLink and here’s their response on the big cabinets posted on the Times article:

    The two cabinets at Montlake are being placed on a private easement, not in the right-of-way. The underlying purpose for this project is to replace a major telecommunications and fiber facility that was put in jeopardy by a landslide in Interlaken Park. This is not a “typical” broadband deployment as Brier would like you to believe and it is unfair to paint it as such. Further it’s also important to point out that this large distribution project is still under construction, none of the screening, fencing or landscaping has been completed.

    The cabinets that CenturyLink has been using for broadband deployment are standalone “coolped” cabinets that measure 48” tall and 44” wide. Fair is fair, technology has evolved, cabinets have gotten smaller and adjunct facilities like meter bases are no longer needed.

  11. 14

    Lack Thereof spews:

    It’s the smaller of the 2 boxes in your picture. Those are the new ones they need to construct for the VDSL2 upgrades. The larger, right box is an ancient interconnect for plain old telephone service.

    The Montlake photos linked by #4 and posted on the Seattle Times blog are of different equipment, on private property, and are not regulated by this rule.

    And I really don’t think an entire neighborhood should be cut off from non-Comcast broadband just because some centrally located homeowner doesn’t like the appearance of something on City property.

  12. 15

    phil spews:

    @8 Yeah, it’s odd that Centurylink hasn’t released any pics. Maybe there’s a reason.

    @12 Where’s the pics? Oh, they didn’t release any you say?

  13. 17

    CP spews:

    A couple things to say. First off, #2 talks about meetings between the city and “stakeholders.” Funny how there are meetings like that and nowhere to ever learn about them until afterwards. The city of Seattle and “stakeholders” are great at meeting amongst themselves, making their decisions, and then springing them on everyone else.

    Why doesn’t the city have a central clearinghouse where all these “stakeholder meetings” are listed? Hell, even when you go to the city council’s website, the various committee agendas are routinely not listed until the day of the meeting. But somehow, all the well-connected “stakeholders” knew what the agenda was a long time in advance.

    Now, as for the issue itself, it’s something I happen to know a few things about because I was a telecommunications equipment and services analyst before I retired in 2002. Not only did I get to know a fair amount about pedestal cabinets and the digital loop carriers that they contain, but I followed CenturyLink when it was named CenturyTel.

    I’m probably the only person who’ll ever comment here who’s actually been to MONroe, Louisiana and had lunch with Glenn Post, the CEO of the company. Their office building is on a river, and there are alligators on the premises. Thought I’d throw in that little detail.

    1. The cabinets aren’t as big as the biggest ones that Goldy pictured.

    2. The city is requiring only two weeks’ notice for homeowners. The so-called “stakeholders” who approved that, and the city, couldn’t give a flying fuck about homeowners. It’s absurd! CenturyLink is a local exchange carrier, and I absolutely guarantee you that they know where they want to stick DLC boxes months in advance.

    To give a two-week notice period is to tell homeowners that they don’t count, and won’t count. Robert Kangas, when you signed onto that one, you became a true insider connected asshole of the type that drives me crazy in this city. Think you know better than everyone else, to the degree that you’ll rubber-stamp rules that’ll freeze everyone else out, period. Grrrrr.

    3. I’m strongly in favor of deployment of the boxes. I don’t think they’re nearly as menacing or as ugly as Goldy’s column implies. And I don’t think that every cranky homeowner ought to be able to block them, nor is there any reason to bury or elevate them. But there are reasons to consult in good faith with a homeowner, and to take reasonable steps to mitigate the impact. Which is, in practice, not going to happen with some bullshit two week notice.

    4. The boxes ought to be able to be customized. A homeowner ought to have a wide choice of cabinet colors. If he wants them hidden with shrubbery, CenturyLink should pay for the shrubs and the planting. And, if possible, people should be able to hang planters on them.

    5. I’ve got ZERO grudge against CenturyLink. I think they’re a good phone company. But with respect to the DLC boxes, they’re part of what’s called the “outside plant,” and no one ever put aesthetic geniuses in the outside plant. It’s not part of the job description. So it’s perfectly reasonable for the city to step in and use some common sense about mitigating the impact.

  14. 18


    And… CP. It’s so nice of you to call me a “a true insider connected asshole”. Seriously, I’m trying to keep the discussion civil and be informative with the info I have. I’m a member of the community and us volunteers have pushed, for years, for the city to clean this process up.

    I’m not a part of the city or an employee of any of these companies. We volunteers have dedicated a ton of time over the years to clean this stuff up. I have absolutely no control over the city’s processes… and if you don’t like them, you can petition the city to change things. I didn’t own the process, UPTUN was merely a participant in it and we suggested other groups in our area to get involved in the stakeholder process, like the North Beacon Hill Council, the Beacon Hill Merchants Association, etc. We didn’t own the invite list, but we pushed for the stakeholder process to cast a wider net than it originally did.

    To your point, what’s an appropriate amount of time? Based on our attempts to gather info before, most people responded to surveys pretty quickly… but even after a couple of months, some people didn’t respond at all.

    And please, if you’re angry, stop the bullshit name calling and swearing and get involved. Do something useful and constructive. This is a process that a lot of us worked long and hard on and us volunteer groups didn’t get paid a dime for any of it and often had to take time off of work to attend.

  15. 19

    Lack Thereof spews:

    @15: they have released pictures. The Times blog post linked by #6 has a picture of one, wearing a leafy green “wrap”. These are the smaller boxes such as the one on the left of Goldy’s picture. The other big scary boxes in the blog post are of different equipment on private property.

  16. 20

    CP spews:

    Okay, I didn’t have to call you an asshole, but I figured hey, it’s the Horse’s Ass website so maybe I don’t have to do the obligatory Seattle kumbaya thing here.

    Anyway, before I get into any substance let me ask you a couple questions about how this came to be and what will become of it. I want to figure out how much time to spend, even here.

    1. How did the “stakeholder” consultation deal get started?

    2. Who was invited, and how were the invitations extended?

    3. How many people on the citizen side? Did anyone on the “stakeholder” side have an outside plant telecom background, either with Comcast or U.S. West/Qwest/CenturyLink?

    4. What about the city and CenturyLink side? Describe, if you will, who they were.

    5. What happens now? A typical Potemkin city council hearing to rubber stamp what’s already been decided?

    I ask these questions in the interest of watching out for the next “stakeholder” meetings that might concern something that I either care about, know about, or God forbid, both.

  17. 21

    CP spews:

    p.s.: Off the top of my head, the minimum amount of notice ought to be two months. Maybe a lot more. CenturyLink should file their buildout plan with the city as far in advance as possible, and contact homeowners by mail and by phone.

    Homeowners should, at the very least, have a wide choice of cabinet colors. There should be maximum flexibility with respect to the precise location of the boxes. Ideally, those boxes ought to be able to be customized, i.e., things hung on them, as long as the venting remains adequate.

    Two weeks? Completely ridiculous. It sends an unmistakable message of complete disrespect. Even I, who am broadband friendly, telephone-company friendly, and not DLC pedestal phobic, would be mightily pissed off with a two-week notice.

    I’d want enough time to talk to the neighbors, have an outside plant guy come over and visit, and talk it over. I called you an “asshole” in large part because of how brainless that aspect of this thing is. It’s incredibly disrespectful to homeowners, and I’m not generally inclined to show a lot of respect to those who don’t show it to me.