Topic: Open Government (255)

WAVEing at Problems on the BAG

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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.

About Jon Humphrey

Citizen Journalist • Bellingham • Member since May 23, 2017

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