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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

July 16, 2014 at 6:41 PM

Seattle’s new tech chief open to city broadband service

Seattle’s new technology chief is open to the idea of creating a city-owned broadband service to compete with vendors like Comcast.

But first he wants to see whether existing companies can improve their service, perhaps with an assist from the city.

“At this point we have to consider all options,” Michael Mattmiller said during an interview Wednesday.

Mattmiller – a former Microsoft privacy strategist and PricewaterhouseCoopers consultant – began serving as the city’s chief technology officer last month.


Although he was hired by Mayor Ed Murray, Mattmiller still needs to be confirmed by the City Council. On Wednesday a council committee voted unanimously in favor of the appointment to the $140,000 per year job, suggesting that he’ll be confirmed by the full council on Monday.

Mattmiller has the right background. After working as Web developer for his alma mater, George Washington University, he audited federal technology projects.

At the city, he’ll oversee a tech department with 197 employees that support 10,000 city employees. Big projects he’s inheriting include a migration to Microsoft’s Office 365 online e-mail and productivity suite, and the consolidation of 17 different server set-ups into one outsourced datacenter.

The 33-year-old native of Columbus, Ohio, uses a Microsoft Surface 2 as his work PC and carries his personal iPad. He also uses a Fitbit health monitor, a city-issued Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone and his personal Nokia Lumia 935 Windows Phone.

At his Green Lake home he gets fast broadband from Comcast, but he knows that pockets of the city still have poor options.

Mattmiller agrees with his boss that the city should relax regulations for broadband providers, including a controversial move that would make it easier for CenturyLink and others to install above-ground utility cabinets on parking strips in residential areas.

“We have to look at, No. 1, how are we reducing barriers to competition, knowing that the marketplace is hungry for more broadband,” he said, explaining how the city will work to improve broadband offerings.

“We also need to look at public-private partnerships,” he continued, adding that the city will talk to companies “that can leverage our assets to go out and deliver commercial internet.”

“If those options aren’t getting us where we need to be, we need to look at municipal broadband,” he said.

Mattmiller has yet to talk to Google about the possibility of its Google Fiber service coming to Seattle or to Wave Broadband about expanding its ultrafast broadband in the city.

Perhaps a bigger challenge will be unifying the city’s disparate technology systems. Large agencies such as City Light and Seattle Public Utilities have their own information-technology departments, which don’t report to him.

“What we do have are several governance bodies that coordinate our IT around the city,” he said.

Why isn’t there one technology officer who oversees it all?

“It’ s a good question and I’m not sure the evolution entirely,” he said, “but certainly one of the things I’m looking forward to working on with my colleagues in the other department is, what is the right model going forward? Is this distribution the best approach and where do we have the opportunity to work more efficiently together?”

We’ll see how much he and Murray can get done in the 3 1/2 years left in Murray’s term.






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