AT&T and the COB (Partners in Corporate Welfare)

• Topics: Bellingham,

I’ll start this article by blowing out of the water the safety argument made by our council, mayor and public works for the gift of almost $1 million dollars to AT&T. Verizon and AT&T have both been in hot water lately for throttling First Responder connections. When do they throttle, aka slow down or restrict, connections? When the load is highest. When are First Responder connections loads expected to be the highest? During an emergency!

... telecoms will be throttling the connections of our first responders when they are needed the most.

Why do big telecoms love doing this? Well, there are several reasons, but one of them is that they always half-ass their fiber installs. Having lots of fiber for backhaul is essential to a truly safe network. So Verizon, AT&T, and all of the other anti-net neutral, anti-first amendment telecoms will be throttling the connections of our first responders when they are needed the most. I wrote in my last article about the need for a safer public system, and the problems with handing over the keys to AT&T instead. In short, safety and big telecoms simply do not go together.

In 2016 I started out working on the public broadband issue by offering an olive branch to the City of Bellingham (referred to as COB). Since they always claim to be out of money, I had put together a small team of experienced professionals, and a few people willing to drag some conduit around, willing to volunteer their services to help improve our public broadband connectivity.

I was told many things by Ted Carlson and Marty Mullholland at my 80-minute meeting with them that didn’t add up. One would be that they would use every excuse possible to refuse help from the community. But the oddest thing they said was that the existing network wasn’t usable and that they didn’t even know where it all was. This would be contradicted later by other documentation that I’ve written about in other articles. Ted stated that the fiber was largely in streetlights and hard to use. He would later offer these same streetlights to Verizon, AT&T, etc. for 5G small cells. Public works would also admit to installing 2-inch by 2-inch conduit for their own use at least double the rate of many other communities, enough space to carry 13,872 Wavelengths and up to 1,775,616 services with the right equipment. They would claim that somehow the COB needed to save this for themselves and future expansion. Funny, I didn’t know that the COB had 13,872 buildings to serve.

None of their claims added up, but they were withholding information and stonewalling as much as possible. This resulted in many public records requests, and the production of some documentation. They are still trying to withhold some more documents, and we’re still working on that. Anyway, one of the documents would show that the COB would give almost $1 million dollars to AT&T, guarantee them rent for 20 years at a low rate, and run them public fiber to the Sehome Hill Facility.

... at the same time they were telling the public that the resources they paid for weren’t usable, they would lease them to AT&T.

Since the council is aware of all of this I won’t defend them too much, but it is worth noting that this all happened in 2016 and was done mostly under the radar as an extension to an existing contract. That’s right, at the same time they were telling the public that the resources they paid for weren’t usable, they would lease them to AT&T. T-Mobile would also show interest in using the facility.

Keep in mind that AT&T would not only serve their aforementioned FirstNet services from this facility at $60 a smartphone plan a month (mostly paid by taxpayers), but would also serve their regular customers as well. The document would be a major modification to the facility, but written up as a simple modification to an existing contract to keep it under the radar of any real review. In short, AT&T would make many millions of dollars off of the facility. We’d pay to upgrade it, make almost nothing off of our lease with them, and their services wouldn’t even really be safe.

I know a lot of business owners who rent spaces. In general, their landlords don’t pay to upgrade their spaces for them, so why is the COB (the landlord in this case) doing it for one of the largest companies in the history of the world?

So there you have it. While the COB is telling us they can’t do anything about housing, the homeless situation, broadband, or do basically anything else useful on behalf of most of its citizens, they certainly can give corporate welfare to big, anti-net neutral, anti-first amendment telecoms, that will throttle the connections of emergency responders. Sounds to me like we need to ask AT&T for our money back.

Here is a link to the AT&T/COB Corporate Welfare agreement. I recommend you look at who signed it. They were most of the same people who went out of their way to represent Verizon at the July 2018 meeting. Sure, you can say that the City’s attorney Matt Stamps was just doing his job, he probably was. You can say that the mayor was signing something she didn’t understand and was relying on her staff. Maybe. Still, it’s sad that at a time when our homeless population was already out of control, our schools needed more funding, the cost of housing was already outrageous, and a host of other social problems faced our citizens, the upper-echelon at the COB would find yet another way NOT to help out its citizens. It would help out a giant, unethical mega-corp instead. Sadly, this is yet another sad story in a saga of putting those who can already help themselves ahead of those who can not.

One last thing that’s worth a mention. The State of California has started resisting these outrageous telecoms and the equally outrageous laws being pushed by Ajit Pai and the most corrupt FCC in American history. It’s time we did the same.

Attached Files

About Jon Humphrey

Citizen Journalist • Bellingham • Member since May 23, 2017

Jon Humphrey is currently a music educator in Bellingham and very active in the community. He also has decades of professional IT experience including everything from support to development. He [...]

Comments by Readers

Scott Wicklund

Sep 30, 2018

During Council member Lillyquists tenure on the Sixth Ward I have watched my internet connection deteriorate from 24 mbps to ~4 mbps (Comcast).   He is like a chameleon who changes color to please his environment.  But sorely lacking in actual concrete results.   This latest plunge in speed began when WWU students returned and severely stressed the ancient infrastructure.    We have to do better if we value the information highway.  The current corporate shills and others are bamboozled at best and corrupt at worst  in dithering while the City commons deteriorates.  This issue will snowball and threaten all public services and private connections.  We can do much better than tolerate these stooges who know who they are.


Jon Humphrey

Sep 30, 2018

Thanks Scott, there is a serious lack of understanding at the COB about how broadband technologies work. Hence, why we’ve requested a real Technology Advisory Board with community members on it. For example, many of them believe 5G will solve everone’s problems, but were unaware that every small cell, distributed antenna system, etc. needs fiber hooked up to it. They were also unaware that wireless is a shared bandwidth scenario and that 5Gs top speeds are only achieved under very specific conditions. Bottom line, you need fiber to make everything work well. Here is my article on 5G and why we still need public fiber. I have, of course, given them all of this information but they always default to believing the big telecoms…. I don’t know why, especially after all that has happened.


Scott Wicklund

Sep 30, 2018

I had a brief conversation with my Council member at a HVN community meal recently.  I reminded him about the Donovan Avenue water main project which had ripped up the whole street from West to East and failed to include conduit for fiber before it was covered up.  He did not even know that the telecom hubs in disrepair all along that stretch were actually part of a worn out system still in use.  He said he thought they were for PSE!  

Talk is cheap.  Like a chameleon, just sound sympathetic and tailor your answers to preserve your ability to keep sitting in  a chair at the table while doing nothing.  We can do much better.


Robert Bystrom

Oct 03, 2018

Jon, I get the urgency of your campaign, especially in light of the roll out of the neurologically and privacy invasive 5G networks.  The public absolutely has to have control of the electromatic networks that whiz though us and our children.  Please specifiy and articulate your cll to action.  Thanks.

Roberrt Bystrom


Jon Humphrey

Oct 03, 2018

Thanks Robert, we have gone to 2 council meetings, delivered a petition, held up signs, and spoken on the topic. We plan to do so again in the future. In the meantime, there are 3 things we really need to do.

1. Keep getting signatures on the petition. Here is the link:

2. Contact your council members and demand a community advisory board be formed, and that the council have formal meetings with the public broadband side. What do we have to lose? Are they afraid of learning something new? Here is a site we put together with basic information about the issue.

3. Demand a real Dig Once Policy, based on other successful cities like Mount Vernon, San Francisco, Chatanooga, TN, etc. be used. Like the one I proposed to the city recently. It’s based on the Mount Vernon Conduit Ordinance (aka their Dig Once Policy) and the San Francisco Dig Once Policies. The COB is currently, very slowly and not seriously,  working on one that only includes named private companies, is based on a town in Kansas that is nothing like Bellinham, and is as expensive as possible. This all seems intentional and is definately inappropriate as we’ve communicated to them. Hence, why we’ve provided them with a much more reasonable policy to work from.

Please let us know in the comments what they say, if anything, they do have some very convincing lies that they tell the public about this. If you don’t know a bit about tech, they almost sound believeable.

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