3/26/2021 Update: Thanks to public pressure the COB has finally started to post the BAG meeting recordings. While it takes them an uncommonly long time to post the videos, they date back to March 2nd. The original meetings were not recorded by the COB and Public Works Director Eric Johnston fought as hard as possible to keep it that way. Thanks again citizens! Here's the link.
One of several concerning things to come out of the City of Bellingham over the years is how they like to appear to be doing work without ever actually accomplishing much. This is true of most of our governmental entities. So instead of spending a lot of time recounting all the failures of our government to help its citizens, even during a pandemic, I’ll just jump right into the latest one.
One of the tasks of the Broadband Advisory Group is to select a consultant who can give them a better, more complete and accurate picture of the current broadband situation in Bellingham. However, if you’ve been following my articles, you know that COB Public Works Director Eric Johnston, IT Director Marty Mulholland, and even some of our elected officials have been bending over backward to protect big telecom. In fact, when the BAG was first being formed, Eric tried to allow representatives from the big telecoms, like Comcast’s Vincent Buys, to be voting members. It was only after public outcry, that this was deemed inappropriate, which it obviously was. (Thanks again, citizens!)
But public outcry wasn’t going to stop Eric from selling you out to corporate interests. Instead, he demanded these special interest representatives be allowed as ex-officio members. And Eric didn’t stop there, he included a few other anti-public gotchas. For example, since he insisted that the advisory group be “advisory,” he is allowed to override BAG recommendations. Ultimately, he can, and probably will, ignore their recommendations. So, although the BAG appointed four members to select their consultant, even at this early stage, the fix is already in and Eric will have the final say on who the consultant will be.
The four BAG members on this consultant committee are: Milissa Miller, RB Tewksbury, Steven Spitzer, and Max Carper. Milissa Miller’s entire career has been about protecting private fiber interests like WAVE. In fact, for the purposes of this group, she should be considered a WAVE employee because she was one for many years. Citizens who know members of the group have told me that RB Tewksbury is “close to Milissa.” Tewksbury’s application shows a bias toward large business interests, and when I say large, I mean big telecom. What this means is that half this committee’s members will be protecting the interests of the private fiber company, WAVE. It seems important to remind readers that WAVE charges 13.5 times more for fiber than it costs in Anacortes and at least 150 times more just to get hooked up to it. On top of that, their services are hardly available everywhere and they are slow to respond to outages, even for their business customers.
One can hope that Steven Spitzer and Max Carper will prevail and name a consultant who will work in the public interest, but that is unlikely because Eric has the ultimate say in who the consultant will be. If the sub-committee chooses a consultant that doesn’t please Eric, he will simply reject them and appoint his own.
We are being given an illusion of choice. Mayor Fleetwood and the council want you to feel that this group allows the public to be heard, but you won’t be heard.
Just like when Mayor Fleetwood wanted you to think he cared about the environment and appointed Seth Vidana as the climate and energy manager. Unfortunately, Fleetwood then made him a subordinate of Eric Johnston, who immediately tried to forbid Vidana from talking to anyone about the huge power consumption associated with all telecommunications other than fiber. Remember, even during this pandemic, the city has still not provided Open Access to the existing publicly owned fiber network, erected a single public access point, or established a Dig Once Policy. And as much as they want to blame all this on COVID, most of that work could have been done safely during the pandemic and would have provided much-needed jobs.
Would you like to see all this behind-the-scenes manipulation for yourself? Me too, but Eric still refuses to record the BAG meetings, and the mayor and council look the other way. It’s sad the city is willing to waste the time of so many good people on this charade simply because they’re afraid to hold staff accountable. Then again, elected officials haven’t actually had much power at the COB for a long time; which means you haven’t either.