Topic: Port of Bellingham (185)

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A running Record of the Zero Transparency Policies of the PUD, Port, County and City Councils From 1/12/2022 Onward

A running Record of the Zero Transparency Policies of the PUD, Port, County and City Councils From 1/12/2022 Onward

 I have written many times about the lack of transparency from our political institutions in relation to broadband. Just about everyone working on critical issues is reporting this same shortage of institutional transparency. From here on, I will record the questions I ask of the aforementioned political entities and note who does and doesn’t respond. I will update this living document weekly.

Here are the questions I have asked of our officials so far. I have removed my explanations in the interest of simplicity and because I’ve written about these issues before.

  1. Have you committed to high resolution testing that will ensure accurate, 21st Century speeds, allowing us to compete with countries that already offer fiber to the premises for lower cost than we do like RRUL testing?
  2. Have you set any standards for last-mile connections?
  3. What standard are you setting for cost?

No response update from 5/26/2022 to 8/9/2022

I apologize for not providing an update for a few months. I was working on the TAGNW Broadband Solutions document which special interests, and their corrupt allies in our government and the Whatcom Democrats, ruined. Please see John Servais' recent article on that and the Change.org petition update. This all started after I linked several Democrats from the Sharon Shewmake Democrats to a local big telecom investor.  

PUD: After using embedded Democrats Jamie Douglass and Andrew Reding to rewrite the TAGNW Connectivity Broadband Solutions document to remove critical items on behalf of special interests, Commissioner Grant is now dodging setting up the LUDs (local utility districts) she pushed so hard for. The anti-public broadband new general manager she pushed hardest to hire is only offering to help proposed LUDs “setup contracts for backhaul with WAVE or Comcast.” Leaving all of the responsibility and expense up to the taxpayers as it was before the PUD hired their new general manager and broadband manager positions. So, in short, they have more help than ever before and are still doing a whole lot of nothing.

Grant does plan on abusing her position to help the Chair of the 42nd Democrats setup a private broadband company with his son. This company will initially only serve a few homes in Blaine. So after all of their chest beating about broadband we’ll be lucky if Grant and Deshmane can pull off serving 5 to 10 homes in over 8 years of broadband being an issue. 

Port: Speaking of doing nothing, after receiving millions of dollars to start a rural broadband project, the Port has admitted on their own website that they haven’t even begun to hang fiber yet and may not even do so by the end of the summer. Also, they're only working on one small area in East Nooksack. As I’ve reported on before, their system is NOT a proper fiber system, and comes with no guarantee of pricing or performance. It also will only serve customers the big telecoms didn’t really care about anyway. The cost of hooking up to the system is also being pushed off on mostly poor residents and may cost in the thousands since the cost of connection is being left up to the private providers who are using the Port’s system. The Port is strategically leaving out these critical details in their propaganda.  
The direct quote is, “The Port is current working on constructing a open access fiber project in East Nooksack that was funded in partnership between the Port, the County and the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) The Port is excited to be able to provide quality high speed broadband to rural Whatcom County.  The Port anticipates fiber to begin to hung by the end summer.” 

Again, note the word anticipates. The truth is the project was supposed to be done by the end of the summer and it hasn’t really even been started yet. 

County: The county has stopped talking to citizens about anything related to the interest of big wireless companies as advised by our own county attorneys to protect special interests. The county has also reported no progress on a Dig Once policy and Kaylee Galloway seems to have stopped work on it since the Shewmake Democrats ruined the TAGNW Broadband Strategy Document to protect special interests. 

COB: The council was supposed to consider adopting the Broadband Advisory Group’s (BAGs) recommendations but it was not on last night’s agenda. Note that the group is only allowed to make recommendations. So whether they’re good or not is immaterial as they set no standards. All final decisions are left up to public works director Johnston who has sat on our existing public fiber network throughout the entire pandemic and will continue to do so. He has always, and will continue, to abuse his position to protect big telecom and other special interests. So the BAG was a giant dog and pony show designed to produce no results as I’ve reported on before. 

County Executive: The county executive gets his own blurb this time as his immaturity and work against the public interest deserves highlighting. Satpal tells experts, like me, that cursing somehow negates our decades of professional experience and invalidates the way that the laws of physics work. He also believes he knows more than the world’s top experts about broadband. The arrogance of the Shewmake Democrats like Satpal truly knows no bounds.  

No responses update 5/3/2022 to 5/25/2022

This time I'll just note the one exception.

County - Thanks to Kaylee Galloway and Tyler Byrd for engaging the public on the Geneva Cell Tower issue I wrote about here and here. Kaylee has also kept up to date on developments regarding Dig Once and Port/PUD plans.

All other entities, the Port/PUD and COB are stonewalling on any real developments. All refuse to have a public discussion/debate on the issue. And all refuse to develop advisory groups that are not riddled with special interests and their sympathizers. Of course, they're all playing off their half-assed efforts as progress. It's all about what they can say on the campaign trail, not real progress. Any solid plan is still at least 2 years away with no real county-wide network completion date set. The PUDs new plan is to push the responsibility onto neighborhoods and not to even act as a provider even though they can. It's exactly what big telecom wants.    

From 4/24/2022 to 5/2/2022

Sadly, almost all of the information I received in this period also had to come through back channels as the entities themselves generally did not respond.  

PUD: Christine Grant has stepped down from the Port's ISP/special interest party "broadband committee." She will be replaced not by the more experienced Commissioner Deshmane and NOT by the PUDs own broadband expert Andrew Trikin, but by the anti Dig Once, anti PUD as provider new GM Chris Heimgartner. I mean, why not hire a broadband expert so he can NOT participate in broadband meetings... I honestly have stopped trying to make sense of anything they're doing. Deshmane may look into giving us a map of projects like Mason County has enjoyed for many years, but this is doubtful as no projects are under way other than compiling inaccurate data from inaccurate testers for an inaccurate map. 

Port: The Port confirmed 3 projects, but with no details. They say the now $12 million they're putting into their projects will go to a site in Ferndale, Blaine and Nooksack. However, since any one of these sites can easily justify all $12 million, it's obvious that their efforts will be very half-assed. I have confirmed with other sources that they are also not acting on all of their contracts and not installing as much fiber as they could be this spring/summer. 

County: Kaylee Galloway remains a beacon of hope and integrity. She continues to work for the public good. I hope the system doesn't change her as I've seen it do to others. 

COB and Mayor Fleetwood: No response on broadband. I contacted public works director Johnston about the parking meters in Fairhaven too. I posed 5 very reasonable questions and he is ignoring 4.5 of them. Having only half answered one. 

Here are the questions Johnston refuses to answer. He will most likely try to force us to find the answers via public record requests, which is a wasteful tactic he often uses. 

1. Who is the LTE provider for the new parking meters in Fairhaven?

2. Who is acting as the ISP?

3. How much are you paying per month for the connection fee per month?

4. Are you partnering with "Pay by Phone" or some other entity? Please identify them by name and indicate what percentage of fees they are receiving monthly.

4a. Does this entity own the meters or are they directly owned by the COB?

5. Why was this project considered more important than others during a state of dual emergencies? Meaning the pandemic and climate crisis that still continue.

 

From 4/14/2022 to 4/23/2022

All entities continue to stonewall when it comes to responding in writing to questions. However, I was able to glean some information from public meetings. 

PUD: The Port did mention that they have applied for another $30 million in grant funding. The keywords here are applied for. There is no reason to believe they’ll get all of it, or any of it as funding is generally given to big telecoms for obsolete services first, and with the PUD refusing to exercise their own retail authority there is no income stream to build out new infrastructure with. So they are relying entirely on grant money which may not always be there. Again, the cost of a county-wide network would be about $160 million. 

At the WAPUDA meeting Grant and Deshmane mentioned the problems with RDOF funding I mentioned in this last update, but again, there is no reason to believe anyone will actually try to do anything about it. 

Mentioning things like this might sound good, but they are counting their chickens before they hatch for political reasons. The truth is that construction hasn’t even begun on a county-wide loop and while they may serve up to 10,000 unserved people with internet this summer, there is no guarantee of speed and their network is not a true fiber network, they have set no Dig Once policy, and there is no public plan for the county-wide loop we need yet. To make matters worse, underserved people whose connections are so bad they might was well not have them, will see little relief from their efforts because they are considered served by the establishment who is still trying to protect big telecom with their actions. So, it would be fair to say that no real progress has been made at this point other than securing about $10 million of the needed $160 million.   

Port: Basically, the same as the PUD, but with one addition. The Port does sometimes convene a group on broadband. The group is made up almost entirely of special interests, including reps. from the telecoms, and the people the Port likes the most instead of actual unbiased experts. For example, Commissioner Deshmane is the broadband expert at the PUD but the Port insisted on the much less knowledgeable Grant. There is no representation for the public from a public expert that is not tied to special interests. The Port is doing things they way they like, by including good old boys and girls that won’t cause any trouble with Rob Fix instead of people that will look out for the public interest. 

City Council and Mayor: Still sitting on our publicly owned fiber network. Public works director Johnston has changed his tune from, “there is no issue” to “there is an issue but the big telecoms need to solve it.” Knowing full well that they never have or will and that creating competition with our existing network would make telecoms have to change their behavior for the better. It’s just another way to protect big telecom.

County Council: Please say thank you to Kaylee Galloway. She continues to push for progress among largely uneducated opposition. We met and sorted through the information put out by other entities.

From 1/31/2022 to 4/13/2022

PUD: This is by far the biggest update. I met with the new PUDs General Manager. The results were not good. While the PUD did hire an individual to oversee broadband the new General Manager definitely plans on standing in his way and keeping him from making any significant progress.

Here are the details:

The new GM was hired with great insistence from Commissioner Grant, who as of this hiring has officially lied to everyone about her stance on broadband. Although Commissioners Deshmane and Murphy have generally always supported her, she chose to take no real action during the pandemic and is taking no real action now. 

The new GM they hired moved here to retire and was most likely hired as a political favor to others. He was grossly incompetent when it came to his understanding of fault location. 

He was unaware that fiber has fault location down the centimeter. Has blown off all of the advantages of underground infrastructure and does not believe in a Dig Once Policy, even though it saves 90% of the installation cost. On top of this, he pretended like the PUD is poor and can't fund necessary high accuracy testing projects to get the data needed to really understand where to lay fiber and wants to only fund any broadband expansion with grant money which will not be available forever. He also pretended like they couldn't afford even a handful of external public access points. 

His overall plan is to only target unserved areas and not compete with special interests in any way. This means that no self-sustaining system will ever be put in place and there will be no revenue stream even though this is largely how Mount Vernon funds their own expansion and it's a proven model in general. 

Since the Port/PUD was only able to secure $10 million this year in grants, and a county-wide network would cost about $160 million, at this rate we're looking at about 16 years before we get close to the progress made in Anacortes. 

At least he was honest in telling me that they are not guaranteeing speeds of any kind while the Port is lying to you about providing Gigabit service. As I've mentioned before, their service will NOT hold up to load testing and they're using the same tricks as big telecom in their marketing. At best a handful of unserved people will get connections. THis will be spun as progress on the campaign trail.

Furthermore, after taking no real action during the entire pandemic and refusing to exercise the PUDs retail authority to be an ISP, Commissioner Grant is now abusing her position at the PUD to try to force a neo-liberal corporate Democrat into Commissioner Murphy's seat. She is now saying in the background that she can't do anything unless Murphy is replaced even though he generally supports her and she could act now. She hopes to replace his seat with a Democrat recommended by corporate, big telecom supporting, Democrats like Sharon Shewmake. 

THis is all very sad because the PUD did a nationwide search for a GM and could have hired anyone, but chose to keep the establishment happy instead. Hell, commissioner Deshmane could have been the GM, but that didn't keep Grant from stabbing him in the back at our expense. 

Port: Is lying to you about providing Gigiabit service. See previous updates.

County: Is regurgitating what the Port and PUD are saying and passing it off as progress. It is not. 

City: Continues to sit on their existing fiber network and protect big telecom.

The State: Is helping special interests by scuttling rural broadband projects and handing out corporate welfare. See this update. 

The Political Establishments: Meaning the major parties. Admit that public fiber is overwhelmingly popular with the citizens but that the elected officials simply don't care about what the citizens want.

Week of 1/12/2022

PUD: No response 

Port: No response

City Council and Mayor Fleetwood: No response. Note: As of approximately three months ago, the City Council removed real public commentary at their meetings. They have been replaced by “free speech nights” that only some council members attend. These nights only happen once a month. 

County Council: Kaylee Galloway asked for more information. 

Week of 1/17/2022

PUD: No response 

Port: No response

City Council and Mayor: No response. 

County Council: Kaylee Galloway asked for more information. 

Week of 1/24/2022

PUD: No response 

Port: No response

City Council and Mayor: No response. 

County Council: Kaylee Galloway, Tyler Byrd, P.U.D. Commissioner Atul Deshmane and I talked about the importance of high resolution RRUL network load testing again. Commissioner Deshmane wrote in support of the idea. Stating that, “In my opinion this testing is an essential part of understanding our current situation. This will be an extremely helpful compliment to the other efforts in the County by the PUD, Port, and City.” Commissioner Deshmane remains the consistent voice of reason and transparency at the Port and PUD. I can’t figure out why he is not heading up the broadband project for the PUD. He has more experience and more knowledge than Commissioner Grant, has worked on the issues longer than she has, and he believes in transparency. He would not have left us to rot during the entire pandemic, with no real explanations, like the rest of the commissioners have done.

A few weeks ago, a voting member of the BAG contacted me on behalf of the political establishment to tell me that, “I do agree that the speed test” (“Mlabs" in the case of the COB study) “is not as accurate as a longer test would be, but RRUL will not be adopted by the city government as long as you keep putting out polemics against city officials. I hope you realize that one day.” So, they wrote to me on behalf of powerful public officials and staff members to tell me that members of the establishment, like Fleetwood, Johnston, Grant, Bell, Sheppard, Fix, Briscoe, etc. know their studies are bad, and there is a better solution, but they just won’t do the right thing because of personal issues they have with being held accountable and having to answer to the pesky public. 

The funny thing is, RRUL isn’t “my” test. I just use it. It was developed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to overcome the many problems with tests like the ones COB and PUD/Port are using. So, they know their test is bad and are refusing to do better because they want to punish someone; that someone is me, a pesky middle-class constituent who data-challenges them. Well, that means they’re willing to punish all of us to control one person. Does that sound like something a public official should do? Does it sound like they achieved their goal? It should be noted that the inaccurate studies they are running are very expensive, too. The COB’s invalid study is being run by the pro-big telecom company, Magellan, will be at least $100K. 

I believe this e-mail was written largely on behalf of a sub-group of the Riveters trying to influence the upcoming election for Senator Erickson’s old seat. As Sharon Shewmake pulled me aside, out of view of others, years ago and yelled at me for nine minutes on behalf of Verizon. She was not able to best my well researched arguments, so she stormed off in a huff and did what she always does: She lied pathologically about the incident and tried to smear me on behalf of the establishment like she has done to many others. Her aide sat down with me for 20 minutes after starting with, “I agree with you,” and thanked me for my volunteer work. True to form this would not stop Sharon from pathologically lying about the incident, claiming I “mansplained” the topic to her and that her aide was afraid of me. Really, the guy who sat with me for 20 minutes and told me he agreed with me? The guy who offered to meet with me about two weeks later? I wasn’t mansplaining, I’m an expert on the topic, but Sharon is so insecure she is threatened by anyone who knows more than she does about anything. Sharon won’t listen to experts, especially if the gender she thinks they identify with isn’t the one she likes. This includes allies who care very much about women’s rights issues like myself. Also, I’ve never seen anyone mansplain a topic like Sharon. Sharon is a bully who specializes in mansplaining topics to others, especially ones she doesn’t understand. Then she gets angry if you don’t allow her to abusively spew inaccuracies at you. 

I am also 90% sure that Commissioner Grant, a close friend of Shewmake and part of the Riveters sub-group, used her influence at the PUD to try to muzzle me after receiving some odd e-mails this week on my communication style from Deshmane; they CCed the PUD’s lawyer and old general manager. The topic I was being chewed out for? Bringing up the IPCC Climate Report and the fact that if we don’t do something soon, we might starve to death. Since I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, I was annoyed. So I did what I always do: I investigated.            

At first I wasn’t sure if it was Commissioner Grant or Deshmane, as both are heavily linked to Shewmake and her campaign manger, but putting the pieces of the puzzle together, coupled with Deshmane’s continued transparency and reasonable reactions to events over the years, it’s hard to believe it’s not Grant. Especially after she chewed me out for my last article that held the Port and PUD accountable for their lack of transparency. The PUD has yet to provide real answers, a real schedule, or a real update on the progress of broadband in our county. Grant says they talk about it every meeting, but there has been no real progress. We need more than talk. 

Commissioner Deshmane asked me to hold all of the commissioners accountable when I speak about PUD failures and not Grant specifically, but that would be unfair. Grant fought to have control of broadband at the PUD over the much more experienced Deshmane, and although they all share some blame, Grant is most culpable. My advice to her is: You are a public official now. People care about this issue, and you have failed them during a pandemic. Stop trying to smear people working on the public’s behalf and get to work, or make room for someone who will! Our planet is out of time and our people are sick of games. 

The PUD has hired a new general manager and a broadband position, both of whom who will start in February. But the fact remains, the Port and PUD have yet to give us a clear plan. Who will be the first to get service? They haven’t even started working on a study or map yet. Are we to wait another 15 years when we could be done in five? When they could hook up anchor facilities like schools and libraries in a few months? Sorry Commissioner Grant, but a big part of taking on roles includes the responsibilities that come with them.   

Here is a link to the Mason County Fiberhoods project. Here is a link to the work being done in Anacortes that many of you have seen referenced on the gigantic road signs leading to the ferry terminal. Here is a link to the CPUD system that serves Leavenworth and the surrounding area. Mount Vernon is just as happy to tell you where you can get fiber, and so is everywhere else in the state perusing fiber networks. So why can’t we know where our PUD/Port even plans to start? Keep in mind that the only reason to hide what is going on with these projects is either that no real work has been done, or to protect special interests. In a transparent, public system, there is simply no desire to hide information.

Hiding information just seems to happen here in Whatcom County where most of our officials are busy playing games and protecting special interests, where we have decided the people are on a “need to know basis” for how their money is being spent, including when and how they will get access to this critical resource. It is elitism at best.

Ken Bell still refuses my offer for a public debate on the topic. The offer is still open. In fact, allow me to extend it to all of the commissioners and council members. You know why they won’t debate me? Because, deep down they know they still are making decisions without knowing enough about how the technologies they are using even work.   

It should be noted that the Port just received an additional $4 million in broadband grants that must be spent by the end of the year. Will they do something significant? Or piss it all away on big telecom? Maybe they’ll give us $4 million in inaccurate studies. At a minimum, they should tell us their plan. 

I will continue to update this log weekly. Hopefully, I will have some good news eventually. Maybe the PUD/Port will even provide a map of their planned roll-out of fiber, like the Mason County Fiberhoods. 

Week of 1/ 31 / 2022

PUD: Commissioner Deshmane responded to let me know that although they find community network projects exciting, the way the Port/PUD requested their funding was not done in this logical manner. Meaning by focusing on areas and specific projects, rather than by wires themselves. This is not Deshmane's fault. Commissioner Grant fought for the broadband position and continues to drop the ball on key issues. However, this is not all bad. The Port plans to put some fiber down. See the Port section below for details. As usual, Commissioner Deshamane is the one actually working on our behalf while Commissioner Grant simply takes credit for his work and the work of others. 

Grant continues to spend her time on distractions like utilizing PUD resources, at our expense, to try to intimidate people instead of working on the issues even though she is the broadband committee head (see last update for details).  Ziply is starting to randomly lay claim to some areas in the county just to stall communities working on their own solutions. They have until 2028 to even start installing poor quality DSL or hybridized DSL/fiber services. Whatever they come up with, we should note that, like CenturyLink, most Ziply customers do not get, or have access to, real fiber services. Sadly. Washington state law allows telecoms to bully communities like this. 

The good news is that communities can overcome this bullying by simply getting organized and showing they can provide better service for themselves. You see, while a telecom can lay claim to an area, the service they provide has to be equivalent to the service the community can provide on its own. Since Ziply won't provide real fiber services in most cases, citizens can show they can provide a better solution by installing fiber. It would be nice if our elected officials got rid of laws that allow telecoms to bully their taxpayers. 

Port: The Port did not respond directly, but did state publicly that they have a $4 million grant that must be spent within a year. They are supposed to start running some aerial fiber soon (on power lines), but have no concrete details. Just plans. Commissioner Deshmane urges us to keep an eye out for a press release soon. The Port provided no report on their own. What does soon mean? Well, it could be anywhere from three weeks to a full year. No matter what happens, we are NOT looking at a complete solution from either the Port or PUD this year. Why? Politics. They have the money, they know there is a need, yet they still play games. 

City Council and Mayor Fleetwood: PUD Director Johnston responded only to let me know he would not be providing records from the COB Magellan broadband study directly. I wrote about that here. https://nwcitizen.com/entry/city-broadband-study-isnt-valid
Johnston dodged all other questions. The usual. 

County Council: No Response.

*******

Contact information, is provided below in case you’d like to ask our officials why so few of them seem to believe in accountability, free speech, etc.

Mayorsmfleetwood@cob.org

COB Public Works Directorecjohnston@cob.org 

City Councilccmail@cob.org

County Councilcouncil@co.whatcom.wa.us

PUD: atul.deshmane@pudwhatcom.orgchristinegrant@pudwhatcom.orgmike.murphy@pudwhatcom.org, stevej@pudwhatcom.org

Port: michaels@portofbellingham.combobbyb@portofbellingham.comkenb@portofbellingham.comginas@portofbellingham.comrobf@portofbellingham.com

About Jon Humphrey

Citizen Journalist • Bellingham • Member since May 23, 2017

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