Bye, Felicia

Effective, efficient and low cost, high speed broadband service continues to elude Bellingham and Whatcom County

Effective, efficient and low cost, high speed broadband service continues to elude Bellingham and Whatcom County

For those new to the concept of the phrase, “Bye, Felicia!” allow me to explain. This phrase comes from an iconic scene in the movie, “Friday.” It is now universally accepted as a dismissive send-off of a parasitic, unwanted, individual. In our case, a company or companies.

Long before our public works director was forming his corrupt Broadband Advisory Group chock full of special-interest representatives, Century-Link (now Lumen) and Comcast were trying to intimidate our officials into not pursuing public broadband. They even threatened to leave and take their services with them, as they continue to do via the BAG from time to time. This article is about how beneficial that would actually be for our community and why we must not be afraid.

Big telecom services are inferior and nothing like public fiber-optic service, as proven by the pandemic, our testing, and independent testing in places such as Anacortes and Mount-Vernon. And on top this, the big telecoms have had decades to improve their infrastructure and refused to do so. What did they do instead? They stole the $400 billion dollars given to them by taxpayers to provide the USA with a nationwide fiber to the premises network by 2010. It’s simply how they do things. So giving them more money will generally have the same result. It’s why we need a new plan which involves providing fiber to the premises as a public utility. Further, companies like Century-Link and Comcast would open themselves up to a multitude of class-action lawsuits if they just abandoned our entire city.

Well actually, in the CenturyLink contract that the city’s IT director was incompetent enough to recommend our council and mayor sign a few years ago, CenturyLink  declared they would abandon us if they didn’t gain enough customers to be larger than Comcast in Bellingham. This agreement, that Mayor Linville and the council signed, also outlined how Century-Link would bring few jobs and no local office to Bellingham, unless we made them a virtual monopoly, bigger than Comcast. Comcast, as the current virtual monopoly holder, would definitely have been on that chopping block. 

The last time I met with him, even Mayor Fleetwood commented on how bad the CenturyLink PRISM TV service was and how CenturyLink’s pretend Gig service constantly fluctuated in and out of HD. Yes, Mayor Fleetwood, what you’ve experienced is real, and CenturyLink has no intention of ever providing us quality infrastructure. In fact, their pretend fiber scheme is actually covered in the book “Fiber” by Susan Crawford. Their actual goal is to hook more people up to obsolete DSL services using their pretend fiber service, which is awful too, as a carrot. 

All of the big telecom connections perform well below what their stated speeds are on an accurate load test like RRUL, which is why the state and big telecoms recommend we continue to use fake speed testers as covered in this article. They know that if we perform load testing county-wide that they will have no argument, but fortunately for them most of our officials are happy to play ball with special interests. PUD Commissioner Grant, Satpal, our Port Commissioners, council members, and more are blocking the efforts of Commissioner Deshmane to conduct a proper county-wide broadband survey based on load testing even though it would cost less than $20,000 and give them the critical data they need to know where to lay fiber with the greatest benefit to all. They are doing this to protect the interests of WAVE, a private fiber company that charges 13.5 times more for fiber services than in Anacortes and tens, or sometimes even hundreds of times more, just to get hooked up. So please, write to the PUD and Port and let them know that we need a proper load test study to be conducted of broadband connections in Whatcom County including Bellingham. 

On top of this, big telecom services are based on old, literally obsolete last-mile technology and need to be replaced. So when Comcast or CenturyLink representatives threaten our council members, mayor, and/or the public with the promise to leave if they don’t get their way, we should say, “Bye, Felicia!” When WAVE bullies us so they can keep overcharging us by 13.5 times for their services we should say, “Bye, Felicia!” When the wireless companies overcharge us for garbage hotspots which failed our schools, students and community during the pandemic we should say, “Bye, Felicia!” Please, please take your overpriced garbage services and get out so we can start doing the work we’ve needed to for decades and stop pretending that we have choice. We don’t. 

Now, before we make the argument that we can’t afford to lose the jobs that CenturyLink, Comcast and big telecoms bring here, remember that most repairs are done by poorly paid independent contractors who receive no benefits. In truth, all of these “employees” would be much better off setting up their own, local, net-neutral, companies on a public-fiber network rather than working for any of the big telecoms. I’m talking about the people that actually do the work, not the upper-crusty bosses who threaten us with removing their virtually worthless services. 

Their departure, frankly, would be great! Public fiber networks would increase competition for customers, giving us more real choice and better service. The only companies that would lose are the abusive big telecoms. Everyone else would be better off. 

Public fiber would be in our best interests. Then the mayor, council, corrupt city staff, and special interests could stop pretending that existing obsolete, inadequate, overpriced big telecom services are a good option. Choosing among the broadband equivalents of different types of turds isn’t really a choice, unless you’re really into turds… And I guess our officials must be, because that’s what they keep offering us in their proposals for broadband. They just continue to suggest those moldy old broadband turds, which does keep the special interests happy, but it’s always at the expense of everyone and everything else. 

My God, the city sat on an existing, public fiber network for years, including throughout the entire pandemic. Is it time for public fiber yet? Could we maybe, finally start using that, like we should have been doing this whole time?  Could the Port stop sitting on the millions they have in the bank, specifically for a rural broadband project, and get to work already? 

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

Atul Deshmane

Jul 19, 2021

To clarify, I have been advocating for improved data and mapping and that has many elements: load testing in addition to speed testing, mapping of existing fiber, surveys to understand community needs, and the public availability of this data. I have not yet been able to get resources allocated to support these goals. At the same time, claiming people are blocking me is not going to help me convince them to support these goals. I am responsible for our slow progress too. 


Atul Deshmane

Jul 19, 2021

I think we need more open forums on fiber infrastructure so we can hash out key issues. Some of us want to see concrete, fast action, that end-users will see. That is likely to mean a reliance on the telcom industry and by gifting them federal funds so they can build more connections. However, others want to see things done right and want to require open access and a solid open access backbone. That will take more time and money but it will be more futureproof and affordable in the long run. I don’t think favoring the prior option makes someone a corporate stooge. I also dont think the latter is a idealistic activist. The right approach is probably both and doubting peoples intentions wont help find that compromise based on my prior experience.


Jon Humphrey

Jul 19, 2021

Thanks Atul, these are hardly false claims. As you know, I have been educating the community, especially elected officials, on broadband issues for years now. One of the issues I definitely educated them all on is the need for more accurate testing like RRUL (aka load testing) for many months/years (depending on the official). This has come up at PUD meetings and Christine and Michael failed to back you when they should have even though even some organizations have expressed interest in funding it. “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.” And, “all evil needs to succeed is for good men and women to do nothing.” In short, intentionally not taking action, when it’s obvious it’s necessary, is the same thing as taking an action. “Silence is violence.” This has happened multiple times both in and out of official meetings. The people you are defending have had the means to take action for years now and not only intentionally have not done so but are meeting almost exclusively, and taking their advice from, special interests that price gouge our community. The current situation is only good for special interests, like the ones they almost exclusively meet with.

So yes Atul, maybe it is painful for you to accept but they intentionally did nest to nothing, even during a pandemic, and they are manipulating you. In fact, in some cases, they wasted millions of dollars on childish schemes instead of building real infrastructure. They are saying, “Atul just smear this Humphrey guy and we’ll do the right thing.” But they won’t because they never have even though they know better. That isn’t their goal. Their goal is simply more power with the minimal investment in the community. In most cases it’s been happening for years. My God, the existing network is decades old. Fiber costs virtually nothing compared to other projects. Anyway, you know all of this.

On top of that Christine and Satpal did the WRONG thing in relation to Starlink, as I wrote about too, lining the pockets of WAVE and Starlink for unaffordable, less reliable, less useful solutions that also have a huge environmental impact. They did that intentionally and they continue to give Dracula they keys to the blood bank (Dracula = special interests) and take their advice almost exclusively from special interests.

Christine gained most of the information that got her elected from you, me and Chris Mithcell of Community Broadband Networks. My endorsement, etc. helped get her elected. So my apologizes to the community. She lied to me, but so did most of our officials which is why I’m NOT endorsing anyone this time around. I can go on and on. But the bottom line is, they were aware and they DID NOT support real testing and still don’t even during the Alpha Phase of the Coronavirus pandemic and in the Delta Phase as well. In fact, they didn’t do much of anything useful during most of the pandemic. For months they did next to nothing at all. So no, these are NOT false claims.

I know some politicians think that tribalism is what their parties need, especially to protect shady members, but what we the people need is for politicians to tell the truth! Christine, Satpal, the entire COB government, County Government, and Port need to apologize for sitting on exiting resources, not putting even the most basic policies in place, and NOT holding other elected officials accountable. They literally did nothing for months and even refused the help of expert volunteers to extend the network. Our own testing today shows that the COBPUBLIC network is still functionally worthless and has been for years. That’s intentional too. Eric Johnston and Marty Mullholland (COB public works and IT directors) are well aware of this. They refuse to imrove any public resources and our politicians refuse to hold them accountable. The proof is in the many examples of their lack of action although they have been made aware on many occasions. My God, Christine called me to tell me how much she wants to maintain her relationship with Eric Johnston. You know the COB public works director that demanded a gender discriminating white supremist be put on the BAG (Broadband Advisory Group) and went out of his way to fill it with special interests in general. (Remember those 4 members for WAVE including one voting member on the BAG.)

So, please remind your other elected officials that this goes both ways. It’s time for our elected officials to do their jobs, not to make up fables to protect them with and not to blame their constituents for their own failures. It is time for them to earn their respect the way that the rest of the working class do everyday. Through their actions and work.

Christine, Satpal, etc. are big boys and girls, Satpal is even an electrical engineer. They knew exactly what they were doing and the chose to do the WRONG thing anyway. Time for them to apologize and do the right thing instead or resign. That goes for most of elected officials. My God we went through a pandemic and they didn’t do anything useful. Instead they used it as another corporate welfare opportunity. So, if not now, then when will they take action?!

Reminder to readers of basic unused resources:

  1. Gina Stark of the Port presented on and secured millions of dollars for a rural broadband project that the Port is still sitting on. Expansion was blocked by internal pressure at the Port, much of it from upper echelon Port staff, and no commissioners stood up to them. This is true of the PUD as well with the exception of requests for testing that were made by sevearl people. Not Christine or Michael. 
  2. The COB has had an existing fiber-optic network for decades now that they are sitting on to protect special interests.
  3. The County Executive could easily have put the millions wasted on functionally worthless wireless devices into fiber infrastructure instead. He is literally sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in tax payer money to use especially during emergencies. If we can’t count on our officials during emergencies then when can we?!
  4. The Democrats could always have worked on a ballot initiative for this. There has always been a lot of support, especially post pandemic. I have lost track of the amount of phone calls, meetings, e-mails and more I and others have sent to the Democrats (and Republicans) about this issue. At least they share putting their tail between their legs and selling out the citizens to specail interests in common on broadband. You know, it must be that “reaching across the isle” concept they’re so fond of. Funny how they only seem to do it to protect well monied special interests.
  5. The schools have vast fiber resources but didn’t put up a single, external, wireless AP (approx. $300 each) instead they had people come indoors during limited hours to use the internet. During a pandemic. To try to make coronavirus transmissions sound cute they called them “internet cafes.”

In short, our institutions have failed us and we’re not going to correct the problem by NOT holding Christine, Satpal, Michael, etc. accountable. Time for the parties to back honest candidates for a change and put the people ahead of politics. Or do you suggest we wait for another pandemic before even starting to put the critical infrastructure in place that most other developed countries already have. See South Korea with 100% FTTH coverage for $24 a month for Gigabit. 

One more thing, Christine, Michael and others keep blaming the lack of recently passed Washington State laws for their lack of action in the past but there were no laws in place keeping them from building out physical infrastructure. For example, recent laws passed allow for direct PUD retail authority, but you didn’t even start to build the infrastructure to provide any kind of services on in the past, including Open Access services like Mount Vernon has for decades, direct retail services, etc. Without any infrastructure it’s obvious there is nothing you could do in any case. So why delay for years, when the funding is available? Laziness, corruption, etc. (I refer readers to my many articles for answers.) In short, none of the excuses are good ones. You collectively didn’t prepare us for the future even though the need was obvious and even though that’s exactly why we elect officials to represent us.

A representative of the Whatcom Democrats said to me today, “we can’t defeat the big telecoms if we don’t work together.” I agree 100% with that. So why are officials we elected specifically to work on public broadband working directly with big telecoms and special interests and helping them advertise? Telling us to shut up and not hold officials who are doing this accountable is the problem. We need the Democrats to go back to officials that ran partially, or largely, on broadband as an issue to say, “hey guys, remember those endorsements we gave you? Well it’s time to do what you told people you were going to do.” The Republicans have always backed big telecom against the interests of the public here. I guess this is more of their “reaching across the isle to trip the average worker up and then hold them down.”   

I leave you with the words of State Broadband Office Director Russ Elliott from our “riveting” conversation. Russ assured me that we need to honor the big telecoms. Because in the mind of the SBO the big telecoms are charities that need our help and welfare. Sorry, I better stop here and go work on my CenturyLink shrine.


Erik Thomas

Jul 22, 2021

Would it make sense to go for public wireless instead of, or in addition to public fiber? Citizens in Detroit have set up their own community networks, with strategic hot spots and open access.


Jon Humphrey

Jul 22, 2021

Thanks Erik, that’s a good question and point. I recently read an article about a volunteer group in NYC that’s trying to compete with big telecom using wireless too. However, it still all comes down to fiber since everything else is really an extension of fiber. I would refer you to the book “Fiber” by Susan Crawford for a great outline on the topic. I donated a copy to the library by the way. Fiber has virtually unlimited bandwidth and is used to backup everything else. It also have an incredibly low energy footprint and lasts much longer than other tech. So there’s really no getting around having lots of fiber at a low price. That is if you have a government that actually cares about its citizens, next-generation jobs, education, etc… Sigh… What a disappointment thsi administration and most of our officials have been during the crises.

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