[The following article is a modification of a piece by Jon Humphrey that appeared in change.org on March 30, 2021 entitled “Boulevard Park And Infrastructure (131 years and the COB still refuses to get anything done)”
One day at the end of March, I had an unexpected break in my work so I took one of my best friends, my dog, Wendy for a walk at Boulevard Park. It was a gorgeous day, but I guess when you've been focused on infrastructure for as long as I have you take note of it even when it’s nice outside. I now notice it everywhere I go; it has become second nature.
While at the park, I noticed the city's signs from 2018 about how it's still unsafe to spend prolonged time on the beach because they haven't finished cleaning the site of contamination caused by a gas factory that was located there in the 1890s. I guess 131 years just isn't enough time to complete a clean-up. I suspect they'll try to blame COVID somehow, or maybe even the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Either way, that still leaves them with 129 years to have completed the work, but apparently, they need 150 to complete any project. The COB seems to live in a time warp; whereas it might take the rest of us a few years to complete a similar project, it appears it takes the COB at least 50 times that long.
For another instance, there is a bathroom at the park that has been closed for about four years. It has a broken sewer line which could be fixed easily. In fact, Bellingham Public Works Director Eric Johnston often tells us he can't do other infrastructure work, like fiber, because of his work on water and sewer problems. I guess even a simple repair takes at least five years in COB time.
A few months ago, I posted pictures of the COB public fiber cabinet in Boulevard Park near the RIP Tide apartments; there is additional access near Woods Coffee. Tiger Construction, who has a COB contract to build out part of the park at great expense, could easily provide access to the COB fiber which is less than 100 yards from the Woods Coffee shop there. This coffee shop serves thousands of people with not just coffee but internet access, including lots of Western students and faculty. Eric said in the pretend conduit ordinance he wrote to protect big telecoms, about which I wrote in “Updated Conduit Policy? Worthless!”, that he would "look for opportunities to put conduit in." Well, that was a lie, and this is an example. So, what’s the truth? Tiger Construction is more than capable of putting conduit in to link the park up to COB fiber. So why haven’t they? Well, they have not been given the “OK” because Eric is protecting big telecom. So even in this location, that is literally already pre-wired with COB public fiber, this expensive park project will be completed without any inexpensive conduit being installed and no Dig Once or Open Access policies having been put in place. So in short, no new access.
I am positive if you ask them about it they will say they just can't afford it without raising taxes. That’s a lie, too. They have money and they waste it every time they don't follow Dig Once practices. On top of all of this there is a lot of new federal money available specifically for addressing broadband issues. Still, the COB looks for every opportunity to waste your money while not expanding access, all in order to protect big telecom. It’s obvious this is their goal because fiber pays for itself and a Dig Once policy actually saves money. They're hoping you’ll be willing to pay now and get nothing later.
Have you spotted the consistent theme we see every time we look at the lack of progress in Whatcom County? It’s that elected officials give top priority to predatory corporations and their representatives, and refuse to hold staff accountable. Staff makes decisions without regard to what citizens want. The way it is supposed to work is that elected officials make clear the needs of their population and staff try their best to turn those needs into reality, in most cases succeeding. Not in Bellingham.
In Bellingham we essentially have dictatorships run by high level staff who prevent progress, and spineless elected officials who will not hold staff accountable. At the city, Eric Johnston and Marty Mullholland formed a sham Broadband Advisory Group to protect special interests. Eric was appointed to his post by Mayor Fleetwood even though the mayor knew Eric had been fired from his last job for desecrating Native American remains in an effort to protect special interests. Then he lied to the mayor and council of Oak Harbor about it. At the Port of Bellingham, Executive Director Rob Fix made sure he hobbled any chance of public broadband interfering with special interests. The port is now years overdue on starting any fiber runs even though they have millions of dollars in the bank to start with. At the PUD, our newly elected commissioner Christine Grant, who promised to do something about broadband, has been suspiciously silent about it. She called me to tell me that she, “has a good relationship with Eric and wants to keep it that way.” I guess Eric’s ties to Vincent Buys don’t matter among the new era of good old boys and girls. However, for someone that says they care about women’s rights, like Grant, to not hold Eric accountable means that she is not making Bellingham or Whatcom County a place where young women in STEM careers can really work and live. Oh well, as long as Eric isn’t upset with her, I guess that must be more important.
At the county level, our executive, who sat in my kitchen claiming he saw the value of public fiber, is now back-peddling to protect special interests and substituting solutions that don’t work as well. With his background in electrical engineering he is well aware of this. At the County Council, Rud Browne swore to solve Digital Divide issues during the pandemic, but didn’t even bother having public broadband be a part of the discussion. Instead he, and representatives from the Port, met with white nationalist supporting, gender discrimination, former state representative Vincent Buys (now a Comcast employee), and others, to provide overpriced virtually worthless solutions. Buys also supported Matt Shea, and the unlawful storming of our nation’s capitol to try to establish a national dictatorship.
Neither the Port, PUD, County, or COB have funded a proper broadband study based on real network load testing even though it’s a necessary first step, and inexpensive to do so.
And even though they have millions of dollars to spend on a complete broadband solution. Why? Because they don’t care about us, and they don’t work for us, and this problem extends far beyond just considerations about broadband.
It reminds me of my study of the pre-American Civil War Era, where wealthy Northerners who supposedly frowned on slavery still did business with plantation owners that loved it. You see, a wealthy plantation owner abusing people was still more important to them than a poor worker, Native American, and 98% of the population in general, as long as the status quo was maintained, and money was kept among their small elite group. Just like Eric is still more important to the new era of good old boys and girls than any average citizen in Bellingham or Whatcom County. It’s their tribe and they will protect their tribe regardless of what it does to our population as a whole. After all the motto among our elite seems to be, “we can’t change horses in mid-stream, even if the horse is on fire and the stream is made of gasoline.” That quote is a lyric from a song by a band called Jim’s Big Ego.
We should not reelect any sitting elected official. If they didn’t bother to help us during a pandemic, when can they be counted on? We still don’t have access to any of our existing publicly-owned resources, and neither the COB nor the schools have installed a single, inexpensive, external access point. They won’t even allow volunteers to do it for them. They don’t care if you’re sick, they don’t care if you’re falling behind, they just want you to keep paying your ever increasing taxes and telecom bills and shut up.
Now this article isn’t just an attack on our public institutions that fail us everyday and new officials that lied to get elected. The private sector is doing a terrible job too. Big telecom has made sure that we are way behind when it comes to broadband and they’re not going to do anything significant about it. This is when our public institutions are supposed to act as a safety valve and protect the public interest, but apparently our elected officials are holding the valve closed. After all, they’ve allowed so much pressure to build up at this point they’re afraid to open it.
We can do better. In fact, we must to do better. We have to break up the current establishment. Things will get worse if we don’t.
Comments by Readers
Scott WicklundApr 06, 2021
We have City government infested by political appointees properly called “Flexians” shilling for out of town financial interests. Points are earned at the expense of moving the ball toward public goals. These points are then used to burnish resumes for future employment in the “private sector.” Identity virtue signaling is often used to mask selling the public interest out by both the “left” and the “right.” Both Vincent Buys and Michael Lilliquist serve the same masters. As the late George Carlin said, “It’s a big club but you ain’t in it.”
How else can the progress of Anacortes and Mount Vernon be explained? The meter is running here but the coins are funneled out of town. If there was serious interest in public fiber at COB a broad based committee would be set up to reach concensus on that goal. The Mayor seems afraid of his shadow by tolerating the weasels in his administration. The Council largely the same. What can we do besides clap louder? Maybe bigger “black lives matter” banners?
The Boulevard Park fiasco is just a continuation of stupid failure to enact a “dig once” policy. Look at the Donovan Avenue water line project where the conduit was left out.
Jon HumphreyApr 06, 2021
Thanks Scott, I love Carlin. I listen to his old albums at least once a year. I sometimes refer to him as “the prophet George Carlin” which would probably have annoyed him 😊. It’s obvious the citizens are interested in this, but our government doesn’t listen to them. One of the more concerning things, I could and maybe should write a separate article about, is how the original intent of money provided to the Port for public broadband is being diverted to private interests instead.
Even as far back as Gina Stark’s original presentation, linked to above, Rob Fix was trying to convince her to look into linking up to the fiber at Semiahmoo. I’ve load tested their connection, btw. It’s a fiber connection provided by WAVE, the private provider that charges 13.5 times more a month for Gigabit than in Anacortes and hundreds to thousands of time more to get hooked up. Rob is now trying to take most of the Port’s money and simply give it to WAVE, rewarding them for price gouging us all of these years. This will, of course, not reduce the cost of fiber and therefore all broadband, for any of our citizens. It might let a few people in the county hook up to slightly better connections for a brief time before Niesen’s law makes their connections feel as bad as DSL does now. IT will certainly not address the Digital Divide in the long term. For example, while Satpal is pushing Starlink, he is well aware that the devices are $500 each and that the service is unaffordable for most of the people in the rural areas they claim to be trying to serve.
The original plan was for the Port and PUD to partner together with other public entities like the Port of Skagit and create their own backhaul. Then to directly compete with private providers like WAVE to reduce the cost of connection for everyone to the cost of Anacortes and Mount Vernon. I hear that a seat is up at the Port. Time to put someone new in it.
God this mayor suck. I apologize to voters for briefly supporting him, but what could I do. Only he and April passed the primary and April told me flat out that if she had a broadband advisory group that she felt Comcast and Verizon deserved to have voting seats on it. Time to elect workers to represent workers. The elitism is killing us.
Scott WicklundApr 06, 2021
President Biden’s Infrastructure budget proposal includes $100 billion for “high speed broadband.” Mayor Seth Fleetwood and his trusty PW Director will be forwarding Bellingham’s share to the usual suspects based on past performance. How long will the lack of vision and committment fester?
Jon HumphreyApr 06, 2021
Well it gets even more disturbing in Washington because Governor Inslee said that he was going to create a State Broadband Office to deal with the telecom issue. In previous articles I talked about how my conversations with SBO director Russ Elliott went. For example, they created a fake broadband tester to skew test result numbers in favor of big telecom. In meetings lately Russ is assuring everyone that there will be no restrictions on how any money will be spent on telecom from the Biden $100 billion proposal, or any other funding source. Meaning that no one will make sure that the money is spent on high-quality, durable, infrastructure. Even though Russ admitted to me that he prefers fiber since it’s the best solution from every standpoint, environomentally, economically, relaigbility, price per Mbit, etc. So if Russ knows that it’s the best option, then why aren’t we requiring that some of the money be spent on fiber? Still, as it stands if CenturyLink wants to install litearlly obsolete DSL, the SBO and Fed will give them hundreds of millions to do it.
We’ve made this mistake in the past before. The telecoms were given $400 billion to install a nationwide fiber network by 2010 that they never did. https://nationaleconomicseditorial.com/2017/11/27/americans-fiber-optic-internet/
Russ also talked to me about the importance of honoring the telecoms.(Said sarcastically) Sadly I had to inform him that I had already taken down my Comcast shrine.
Except for HB-1336 (the PUD retail authority bill that you should support, btw) all of the other telecom bills have huge handouts to big telecom attached to them. All of our reps. and senators are aware of this, but none of them are doing anything about it. Sharon Shewmake loves big telecom and has reamed me out and lied to the public to protect them (sorry to people in STEM careers in Whatcom County, oh wait, thanks to Sharon there won’t be many… and certinally not any new ones), Liz Lovlett helped establish the Anacortes public fiber network but won’t fight for one in Whatcom County or Bellingham and isn’t addressing the problems in these bills, Alex Ramel has been mostly silent on the issue too (he supports 1336). Rick Larsen had a rep. call me about a year ago and admitted that the issue is important, but refuses to take time to understand it himself. Suzan DelBene understands the issue, but has always protected corporate interest. I can go on, but the picture is clear.
However, blindly throwing money at the issue, and letting big telecom steal it again, isn’t going to sovle our problems… Come on Michael Shepard, Christine Grant, Satpal, Mayor Fleetwood, many of us voted for you because you said you’d do something about this. What the hell? Only PUD Commissioner Atul Deshmane consistently works on this issue. Thanks Atul!!!