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WAVEing at Problems on the BAG

BAG - the Bellingham city hall Broadband Advisory Group is stacked in favor of mega corporations and against local public Internet service.

BAG - the Bellingham city hall Broadband Advisory Group is stacked in favor of mega corporations and against local public Internet service.

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• Topics: Bellingham, Open Government,

I have written about the many conflicts of interest on the COB Broadband Advisory Group, the most disturbing being the extreme over-representation of WAVE on the group. WAVE has two ex-officio members: David Brinn of WAVE and Allen Meeks of MOX communications. Then there’s WAVE employee, Milissa Miller, who happened to retire right before Eric Johnston appointed her as a voting member of the BAG. Of course, there was Vincent Buys of Comcast, who also protected WAVE’s interests. Thankfully, Comcast had the good sense to replace him recently even though the City seemed to want him in spite of his outspoken gender discrimination and links to white supremacy. 

While we knew that Milissa was most likely put on the BAG to protect the interests of WAVE, a recent development raises new concerns about Melissa Miller and her family’s close ties to the Nooksack Starlink project. Milissa’s husband and son were heavily involved in Blackrock Cable which was part of the Nooksack Tribe’s Starlink fiber hookup and installation. WAVE recently absorbed Blackrock communications for $50 million. So the question arises, did Milissa use her position to line up work and/or make money for her family through the BAG position? The veneer that the money is going to her family members, and not her directly, seems to have been enough separation to placate our mayor and council into looking the other way. Eric Johnston also apparently felt comfortable enough to place her in a position where she might choose between public good for personal gain.  

But before we worry about her too much, the state broadband office and elected officials dating back to Issac Stevens  have a tradition of taking advantage of Native American populations to advertise for special, well monied, interests, in this case Starlink. In fact State Broadband Office Director Russ Elliott goes out of his way to encourage people to use WAVE connections. Because we’ve discussed this, I know he is well aware WAVE charges 13.5 times more for connections than the Anacortes public network, and at least 25 times more just to get hooked up to WAVE fiber.

Christine Grant, Satpal Sidhu, and many others were present at the Nooksack Starlink activation, even though everyone knew there were issues.

What’s really unfortunate is that the fiber WAVE has run for the Nooksack Starlink program comes very close to the Nooksack reservation. This fiber could easily have been run directly to the Nooksack people, providing better connections at lower cost. So why wasn’t it? Most likely to line the pockets of WAVE/Blackrock, and as a huge advertising campaign for Starlink. Please note that the state stepped up to back this program.  

So I must ask readers, again, to contact the mayor and demand that Milissa be taken off the BAG. Maybe it’s not a conflict of interest, but it certainly does not pass the smell test and it looks even worse. And to be direct, public works director Johnston and IT director Mulholland were aware of this situation/conflict before appointing Milissa to the BAG. So were the mayor and council.  

One last note, the COB contacted NWCitizen about doing an article on a new consultant they are hiring to evaluate whether our municipal network can be used for city-wide fiber connections. Why didn’t I write about this? Because they’ve done this before. City policy analyst Mark Gardner generated a report about five years ago after Councilmember Lilliquist asked him to investigate the possibility of putting Dig Once into practice on a Roeder Ave. water-main repair. Their estimated project cost was nearly six times what Mount Vernon pays to install  conduit and fiber. I anticipate that this is what public works director Johnston plans to do again. It is a way to pretend to be doing work while making sure no progress is made. 

Just to be perfectly clear: our existing fiber network can absolutely, positively be used to provide connections to the public. It has always been able to do that.

We don’t need a consultant to tell us; a consultant is just a stalling tactic. The COB could provide Open Access to the network, just like they do in Mount Vernon, and they could do it tomorrow if they wanted to. Local net-neutral providers like PogoZone could immediately start hooking people up to it. But the mayor, council, and just about everyone else are already well aware of all this. What’s tragic is that we don’t have a mayor or council that is willing to hold anyone accountable.

So once again, this is where the real blame lies: With our inept or corrupt government, particularly our mayor and public works director who just can’t seem to do anything broadband-related without allowing special interests to work against the public interest.

Comments by Readers

Ray Kamada

May 23, 2021

Question: besides you and Atul, who else do you feel is working on fiber in the public interest? 

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Jon Humphrey

May 24, 2021

Hey Ray, nice to hear from you man. Yes, there are quite a few people working on fiber in the public interest at this point. However, most of our politicians who said they were going to work on it to get my endorsement (see Christine Grant, Seth Fleetwood, Satpal, etc.), once elected did otherwise, and/or were too spineless to stand up to city staff, and did other things that are very much like the previous administration. Sadly, except for Kelly Krieger, none of the candidates for this election cycle seem to be talking about it much and none seem to want to. We need to let candidates know that if they don’t support fiber we don’t support them. 

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Satpal Sidhu

Jun 03, 2021

Hi Jon Humphrey

I read your write up. I think what Ray Kamada has said, has lot of weight. Public funds shall be prioritized for access to broadband not luxury. What you are proposing is not something in the domain of use of tax dollars for a showdown with private enterprizes. There are many examples in our society where services can possibly be rather owned by tax payers. Our Country is not built on this premise. If this makes sense, people can form an enterprize and compete between them and public funds cannot be used to tip the scale.

Your comment of myself and Christine being present at the Starlink demonstration should not scare you or concern you.  I support opening opportunties of broadband access to people who do not have this utility. I will support public funds like American Rescue Plan to create broadband access opportunities and competition in rural parts of our county rather than metro Bellingham.

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Jon Humphrey

Jun 03, 2021

Satpal, you are twisting words and ignoring the simple math in the situation. Private enterprises have NEVER provided us with the fiber services we need at an affordable price as you and Christine are well aware. WAVE will NEVER really help address the Digital Divide unless they’re getting corporate welfare. The only way to balance it out is with a public entity that allows other local net-neutral providers to compete and provide services. Mount Vernon’s network supports 9 local net-neutral providers.

WAVE quoted us $250K for a less than 1 mile fiber run on one project and $900 a month for Gigabit after that. The cost in Anacortes, Chatanooga, etc. is less than $1K to get hooked up (in most cases) and $70 a month for Gigabit. On top of that you, Christine, Seth, etc. were all in positions to start to build critical mid-mile infrastructure that could have been leased in an Open Access fashion and paid for its own expansion (like in Mount Vernon) for years now. It it foolish and ludicrious to believe that WAVE or any other existing private fiber provider (like CSS or Blackrock which is now WAVE) will provide affordable fiber without a public project backed by a Dig Once policy. My God, the fiber literally pays for itself and these companies have NEVER done the right thing for decades.

So yes, we should all be concerned that you, Christine, etc. backed up a half-assed, unaffordable solution like Starlink, when you knew better, and sold out our Native American brothers and sisters instead of doing the right thing and you did it DURING A PANDEMIC! Installing public fiber is a great example of the critical work that needed to be done during the pandemic, that could have provided safe high-paying jobs, that you ignored to give corporate welfare to abusive private providers like WAVE and abuse your positions to advertise for Starlink. You should be ashamed of yourself, apologize to your citizens, and build out public fiber. NOT cover your inappropriate behavior and protect WAVE and Starlink. They can take care of themselves and should compete in a fair market without having their hands held by our corrupt public officials. Oh, and the Nooksack and most of our other tribes in the area still need fiber to the premises. So time to get to work. There is no magical fairy riding in on a Stalink satellite to save us. Even Starlink is backed up by fiber, so it’s time to get to work and stop making excuses. Our citizens are suffering.

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Satpal Sidhu

Jun 14, 2021

Dear Jon,

Sorry for late reply, many other matters constrained my time.

Jon, you seem to be supporting your argument with anger and frustration, meaning some weakness in your argument needing such adjective to prop it! Yes, you may have different opinion on emerging technologies, but remember the Smart phones are only little over 10 years old. Back in 2008, no one imagined that a phone or a simple wrist watch can become a substitute for television (and many more daily human needs). I have an open mind towards fast emerging alternates for communication. I infer the time frame for Bellingham to achieve an alternate broadband fiber with Tax Dollars may take much longer than you think. It will take convincing more than a small group of people.

Thanks

Satpal

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Jon Humphrey

Jun 14, 2021

LOL, Satpal you realize that you just toally validated my viewpoint while showing off your lack of understanding of our issues right? 2008 was 13 years ago. By not taking any aspect of technology seriously, including the smartphone boom, you are dooming Whatcom County to being a technological backwater for not good reason. Fiber is not expensive and pays for itself. See my many previous examples. Applying Nielsen’s law of internet bandwidth our need for broadband speeds to increase has gone up by a facator of 650%. Please though, keep going toe to toe with me. We can all use a good laugh during COVID. Another crisis the county dealth poorly with and public fiber could have helped with.

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Satpal Sidhu

Jun 14, 2021

Jon,

You made  a serious claim here:

Fiber is not expensive and it pays for itself. If you have so much confidence in your theory, then you have a great opportunity to make the investment (convince a group of people who are willing to put a dollar on your theory) and make the millions for you, your supporters and serve your community at the same time. 

So when I can hear about Humphrey Broadband Co opening doors????  

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NWCitizen Management

Jun 15, 2021

We have removed a comment from this spot because it was riddled with ad hominems.  We apologize to Satpal Sidhu for the personal characterizations.  The comment went over the line.  We can criticize public officials for their actions in a sharp manner without attacking them as persons.  Comments on NW Citizen are unmoderated - that is, a registered commenter can post anything they want without us reviewing it first.  But we will remove ones that violate civil dialog.  And leave a note such as this.

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Jon Humphrey

Jun 16, 2021

I am not after millions but doing what my community actually needs. The many examples of successful public networks, that Satpal is aware of, show that this is affordable and necessary. The pre-pandemic cost of installing conduit with 144 strand fiber in it in Mount Vernon is $120K to $180K per mile. Mount Vernon has 9 local, net-neutral, providers. See Anacortes, Kitsap PUD, CPUD, Chatanooga, and many more for examples of successful networks. It is sad that our officials are pushing big telecom dogma and protecting predatory providers that charge 13.5 times more for their services than giving our county what it needs. A Dig Once policy reduces the cost by 90%. There is no magical fairy riding in on a satellite to save us. We need officials to do their jobs or resign. Protecting the interests of telecoms ahead of addressing the needs of our people is called corruption. And yes, I am frustrated with the corruption. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. Did our officials become politicians to help those than can already help themselves or serve their communities? Actions speak louder than words and the actions of many of our officials during the pandemic have not been civil.

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Dick Conoboy

Jun 16, 2021

Satpal,

I have been following this broadband/fiber issue for some time now and to me it seems a bit like public banking, which I know you support, as a no-brainer.  I just cannot get past the statements that Jon has laid out with respect to Mount Vernon and what they have been able to do.  So if, in fact, Mt. Vernon can do the public fiber and save money for its residents why can we not do it in Whatcom County or any of its cities?  Or are the county and Bellingham saying that what Mt. Vernon is reportedly doing is untrue, unreproduceable and literally impossible one county away?  Are there constraints on us that are not present in Mt Vernon or Skajit County, or for that matter, Chatanooga ? 

I have almost 20 years experience with Comcast here in Bellingham and each time I am able to beat back the monthly charges, I find them growing back again like some sort of green slime on a pond.  No longer am I able to keep my monthly bills for internet and cable level but I find myself with fewer and fewer services/speeds/channels to show for it while prices climb, seemingly logarithmically. 

This is grossly unfair to the public which deals with these monopolistic enterprises that suck money out of our wage earners like leeches in that slimy green pond I mentioned above.  As your know full well, I am no friend of private banking, nor I am a friend of private control of the airways and cable by the likes Comcast, Verizon or any other of these Levathians who need to be slain in the manner of the biblical accounts*. Money and communication facilities are part of the commons as are our natural resources and should be there for the ownership and use of us all.

*Leviathan appears in the book of Psalms, as a sea serpent that is killed by God and then given as food to the Hebrews in the wilderness. 

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Liz Marshall

Jun 22, 2021

Satpal: I second Dick Conoboy’s June 16th comment! Especially for low-income people, internet service costs are ridiculously challenging. It is a good thing I am vegan - at least my grocery expense is likely not as high as most flesh-eaters’ bills. If I recall, Anacortes also might have more reasonable  internet options.  

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Jon Humphrey

Jun 22, 2021

Great comments Dick, Liz and Tip. Tip, I had this idea about using the mycorrhizal network to carry data after seeing the film “Fantastic Fungi” at the Pickford. There are a lot of problems with this idea, like tracking data packets, but of course it’s a complete, existing, worldwide network that can repair itself! Growing our own fungus to do this might eventually be a possibilty that would allow us to install networks in a near zero impact way. I wrote to the films’ creators about it. Perhaps I should expand on this idea in a future article. I did do a lot of research. Anyway, in the meantime, fiber (especially paired with a Dig Once policy) is the most ecological solution. Using thousands of times less power to transmit data than wireless, or especially satellite, solutions and it lasts many times longer as well. Oh and it performs better too. Still, this being Bellingham, even if we came up with a perfect solution, we know that our officials would call the corrupt officials at the state broadband office before doing anything and then they would be advised to run it by WAVE and Comcast first to make sure that we could charge 13.5 times more than necessary for it. The thing both major political parties seem to share in common is that they seem to find the most corrupt officials consistently. My God, the Nooksack Starlink project was an advertisement for WAVE and Starlink supported by Satpal and Christine Grant, and backed up by the state at the expense of our Native American population who STILL NEEDS FIBER. The existing fiber was less than 1 mile from the reservation, btw. They intentionally didn’t run it to the Nooksack to advertise for Starlink. Our city’s public works director was fired for desecrating Native American reamins and lying to the mayor and councils about it in Oak Harbor. Then he demanded that White Nationalist Vincent Buys be put on the Broadband Advisory Group. Sharon Shewmake’s students tell me she doesn’t believe in a minimum wage, but she says she’s a champion for women’s rights. How do those things go together? I can go on, but it really seems like both the Democratic and Republic parties must be advertising, “most corrupt people wanted to fill positions, all other applicants need not apply.” And of course the city council and mayor Fleetwood are still sitting on a usable, existing, public fiber network, to protect special interests, instead of allowing the public that paid for it to use it. Even during a pandemic. The schools did the same thing.

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