Tech tax-break extensions losing steam in Olympia, and other news
Seattle Times technology columnist
It’s time for a spring roundup. Here are updates on several topics covered recently in the column.
Tech tax breaks vs. education: Lawmakers are still wrangling over the state budget, so who knows what will come out of Olympia this year.
But a proposed bill that I questioned in January — to extend the business and occupation tax exemption for tech companies for 20 years, despite the crisis in education funding — failed to passed out of committee and missed a February deadline to proceed.
That tax break expires in 2015, so perhaps the tech lobby will try again next year.
A smaller proposal that would offer a narrower exemption — a B&O tax break just to startups in their first three years — made it a bit farther but lost momentum last month.
“I’m still optimistic we can do this,” said its sponsor, Rep. Cyrus Habib, a Kirkland Democrat.
Habib said broader exemptions for tech are a challenge partly because Silicon Valley’s prosperity — in tax-heavy California — has shown that successful companies “will tolerate that level of taxation.”
What’s more important is having “an ecosystem of talented people, great universities, venture capital” and a “culture that embraces innovation and entrepreneurship,” he said.
We’ve got those things. Adding a limited, focused tax break to help new companies get started wouldn’t hurt — after schools get their funding.
Comcast and cable regulations: Last week’s column suggested that regulators require Comcast and other cable providers to provide local channels in high definition to “basic” subscribers, without additional fees.
The column noted that Seattle has just begun negotiating a new franchise agreement with Comcast, so there’s a chance for people to get engaged and suggest changes. That led to questions about when Comcast’s franchises will be renegotiated in other cities around the region.
Here’s a partial list, if you’d like to tune in. I’ll post an expanded list on my blog:
Edmonds: franchise renewed in December, runs through 2019.
Everett: franchise expires 2014, negotiations just beginning.
Federal Way: franchise expires 2016.
Issaquah: franchise runs to 2020.
Kent: franchise expired, negotiations ongoing.
King County: expired in 2010; negotiations nearly done.
Redmond: franchise expired, should complete negotiations in early June.
Sammamish: up for renewal; to be discussed at City Council study session June 11.
Shoreline: franchise runs to 2020.
Tacoma: franchise runs to 2020.
Seattle broadband service: A decadelong effort to lure a new broadband provider by offering up city assets is closer to fruition.
The city expects to finalize its agreement with Gigabit Squared by the end of April. The plan is for the Washington, D.C.-based company to begin providing a fast, new broadband service in some parts of the city this fall.
Gigabit Squared is piggybacking on a government fiber optic network, which Seattle decided to divvy up after abandoning plans for a citywide fiber network.
Prices of Gigabit’s service should be disclosed when the agreement is finalized. Pricing in the range of $70 to $90 per month for gigabit download and upload speeds were floated in December, said Erin Devoto, the city’s information technology director.
Gigabit’s original plan was to start this fall with service to perhaps 500 to 1,200 homes in 12 neighborhoods. Parts of West Seattle and Ballard were added this year, bringing to 14 the number of initial neighborhoods.
Devoto said 6,000 city residents expressed interest in receiving the service.
An online survey the city is now conducting may drum up further interest. It asks residents about their cable and broadband usage and priorities.
It’s a pretty neutral survey except for a section touting the new broadband service. It makes it sound like Seattle still uses dial-up modems, even though broadband generally is available and some neighborhoods already have gigabit speeds from other providers.
The survey said the city is working on a “super high speed Internet service” that “would let you do things from home using the Internet that you have to do in person now, like visit your doctor or nurse, take interactive classes or job training, work in a group or participate in community meetings.”
The service will also enable people to “use the Internet to run programs (like Word or Photoshop) or back up files,” the survey said.
Most people can already do those things with their computers, yet they mostly use broadband to stream old movies and TV shows from Netflix.
But for some reason that’s not one of the options listed in the city’s survey.
Brier Dudley’s column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Brier Dudley
Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
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