COB to Create Sham Broadband Workgroup to Protect Special Interests - Even During a Pandemic

An undemocratic process awaits a workgroup on broadband.

An undemocratic process awaits a workgroup on broadband.


Hello wonderful broadband supporters! We need your help contacting the City of Bellingham once again. Specifically, your council members ( and the mayor ( . We need you to tell them that you expect them to create a proper broadband committee. As usual, they are trying to make one in name only. I’ll explain.

At first, when I saw the recent press release to form a committee, I was excited. “Finally, they’re going to create a broadband committee and Mayor Fleetwood is going to make good on his campaign promises.” But as I looked into the details in the resolution, I found that our public works and IT directors (Eric Johnston and Marty Mulholland, respectively) made sure the committee would not be allowed to discuss most broadband issues. I posted the full resolution below, but here is a highlight from page 5 of the resolution showing what the committee will NOT be allowed to discuss. Which is just about everything. Yet again, our public works director thinks he has the right to call the shots, tell citizens what to do, and violate their rights, all on the behalf of the telecoms. Does anyone else see how undemocratic this is?

“The Workgroup and Consultant shall focus on broadband and fiber optic networks and the use of the city’s fiber optic network to potentially expand quality, access, equity, and affordability and shall not investigate other forms of telecommunication services providing broadband including cellular, cable, digital subscriber line, or satellite services, except insofar as they directly relate to fiber optic networks. Work shall also exclude consideration of programs to directly subsidize consumer costs for existing internet services offered by private providers and exclude changes to existing telecommunications franchises. A review of the climate impacts of options shall be also excluded from the work of this workgroup. Review of climate impacts of a recommended policy should be considered by the Council with a separate process prior to the adoption of any policy recommendation of the Workgroup.”

Eric Johnston sent this link only to me to try to make clear what topics he will and won’t entertain as part of this discussion. He seems to forget I’m not his employee, and neither is anyone else that might serve on this committee. Basically, according to Eric and Marty, the workgroup is only allowed to discuss the existing network. They can’t even discuss a larger Open Access policy, Dig Once policy, the environmental impact of technology, how types of connections differ, and more.

If we let them do this in this manner, they’ll form this committee, pretend they talked about broadband, and drag this out for another four years. They will also use the application process to make sure only people with ties to big telecom are on the committee. Of course, our community will suffer.

I feel it’s prudent to remind everyone that this is hardly the first time the city, especially Public Works and IT, have felt they had a right to tell citizens what they can and can’t address in their own government. In the not too distant past, I wrote an article about how Eric Johnston was trying to keep us from talking to the City’s Climate and Energy Manager about the environmental impact of technology.

One final note. Don’t expect wireless solutions to be able to meet the needs of our kids this year or in the future. We just got done testing a T-Mobile hotspot, in the defined coverage area, using a proper Realtime Response Under Load (rrul) network load test on Flent. The results were abysmal. But that is another whole article. In short, the only real difference between the broadband situation now and what it was this past spring can be thought of in this way: We found a train, identical to the one we had, put it on the same tracks, changed the decals on it, and ran it into the train we hadn’t yet finished clearing off the tracks. It’s time to start moving this city toward real infrastructure. If the upper echelon of our city staff can’t move forward on this in a truly equitable way, then it’s time for new staff.

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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 [...]

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