I write to you today with a brief update on the state of broadband, and especially public fiber-optics. Thanks largely to the efforts of public broadband supporters in our community, the problems I wrote about in my last article, where Public Works Director Eric Johnston and IT Director Marty Mullholand tried to keep the Broadband Advisory Group from actually discussing broadband, were removed from the resolution by the council. In fact, at the Public Works Commission meeting this past Monday (8-31-20), members even went so far as to agree to draft a resolution in relation to 5G. Let’s extend a big “thank you” to our council for that. So things are looking up, right?
Well, sort of. You see, when I started out on this road years ago, I was warned that former Public Works Director Ted Carlson and our current director, Eric Johnston, an assistant at the time, would try every “dirty” trick possible to protect special interests. Sadly, that is still what is going on. (I’ve written about Johnston many times before, and you may recall that he was the city engineer who was fired from Oak Harbor for a willful cover-up of his department’s desecration of an ancient Salish burial site, in violation of state law.) After I applied to be on the Broadband Advisory Group, I received notification from the mayor’s office and Eric Johnston that all the recommendations for the group would be discussed with Eric by Mayor Fleetwood, before being passed to the council for final approval. So in a very real sense, our pro-big-telecom and Public-Records-Act-violating director, will still be choosing the members of the Broadband Advisory Group.
On top of this, the city has all but killed any discussion of an Open Access Policy—the policy Mount Vernon has for local net-neutral providers on its network—and further, will not allow the Broadband Advisory Group to participate in the creation of a Dig Once Policy. About two years ago, the city released a Dig Once Policy that was so bad it resulted in the NorthWest Citizen article, “COB Releases Elementary School Level Dig Once Policy.” Since then, the community has generated a much better policy based on the Mount Venron Conduit Ordinance and South San Francisco Dig Once Policy. We provided our community-generated product to the city several times. However, this week, when I requested drafts of the current documents, since the city will be discussing Dig Once on September 9th, I was told by Johnston that I am not allowed to see the documents until the 9th. Obviously, this doesn’t allow us time to review, provide suggestions, or weigh in on the documents. Since we know the documents exist, and I’ve been requesting drafts and have been blown off for years now, I made an official public records request and contacted city attorney James Erb. I have not heard back yet. Apparently, Johnston is trying to keep the community from weighing in on the policy, while trying to write a policy that won’t work in an effort to protect special interests, as he has done in the past. This policy should be developed by the Broadband Advisory Group to assure the best policy is developed with no influence from special interests.
So there you have it. Thanks to the community we’ve made some progress, but Johnston is still trying every dirty trick he can think of to maintain the status quo and prevent real progress, even during a pandemic. Please write to the mayor and council and ask them to choose members for the Broadband Advisory Group, like myself and Commissioner Deshmane, who will protect the interests of the community. Otherwise, Johnston will fill the Group with special interest representatives and it will be a sham. Also, please request that the Advisory Group be the body that approves Open Access and Dig Once policies. Do not allow this important step to be a unilateral action by the city.
I will close with this. It is important for us to recognize how deep the corruption surrounding telecom goes. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the intentionally inaccurate connection tester the state put out to protect big telecoms. I have finished developing my own load tester recently, and am working on getting it online. The schools pretended to be addressing this issue when Washington State School Superintendent Chris Reydkal pledged $8.8 million for low-income connections. However, there are a few catches. The money can only be spent on private provider connections—that are so bad they are virtually worthless, and it only covers a scattering of kids statewide These kids will have such terrible connections they will virtually be offline in comparison to wealthier kids.
Locally it’s no better. Our schools in Whatcom County are handing out inadequate wireless solutions that we know won’t meet our kids needs, and are paying approximately $30 per device, per month. This means they will be spending thousands of dollars a month for virtually worthless wireless connections. And our school’s money will be going to the same big telecom companies that are standing in the way of our progress, having attacked our first amendment rights by obstructing net-neutrality, and providing us inadequate connections for high-speed processes. How do we know? Because we’ve tested their devices and their performance is abysmal.
So why are our schools fighting for inadequate connections provided by big telecom and delaying progress on real public solutions even though they personally could fund a complete fiber network that would last 100 years with the $170 million they’ve taken from a technology levy? It all started with the governor’s speech: He assured big telecom he would have their back—right before introducing Superintendent Reydkal. That’s right, just before the state announced that broadband access was a right for all, Governor Inslee said,
So the State Broadband Office, the schools, the Department of Commerce, and more were directed by the governor to solve the problem, but not before giving out big corporate welfare handouts to private telecoms who will not be doing anything that will actually result in usable connections for the poor. All of this while Anacortes offers Gigabit fiber to the home for $70 a month through its municipal system. I wrote an article about the quality of these big telecom low-income connections, “Big Telecom Low Income Connections are a Joke,” and they still are a joke. In fact, our recent network load testing show connection speeds are even worse than we thought when that article was published.