Seattle Hands WIN Franchise Victory

Seattle, Wash., officially invited competition for local cable television services last week when it granted Western Integrated Networks LLC a 10-year franchise.

The City Council voted 9-0 to approve a staff recommendation allowing WIN to build a $500 million broadband network capable of competing for consumers currently served by AT&T Broadband and Millennium Digital Media.

This time last year, it appeared Seattle could be the first city in the nation served by five cable operators. Since then, RCN Corp. and Denver-based start-up WideOpenWest LLC have put their Emerald City plans on hold.

Even so, some members of the city's Citizens Cable Telecommunications Advisory Board felt Seattle had missed an opportunity to extract more benefits from WIN.

"That was one thing that people didn't understand: there is nobody knocking on our door to bring fiber to the home," said Tony Perez, director of the Seattle Cable Office.

Perez said Western Integrated had indicated it had $200 million available to begin building a network to offer its WINfirst bundled offering-provided it was granted a franchise quickly.

Some city officials were enthusiastic about WIN.

"This is the day that we welcome competition to cable service in Seattle, and it's a landmark at the very least," councilman Jim Compton told The Seattle Times.

WIN vice president of operations Bill Mahon said the initial network engineering and personnel hiring would take place over the next four to six months.

Local AT&T executives said the MSO is ready to take on all comers, now that an upgrade has allowed the city-wide introduction of digital cable and AT&T@Home service, as well as telephone-over-cable service in North Seattle.