Public Works Doesn’t Care What You Say

By On
• In Bellingham,

Update: 7/14/2018: Shortly after releasing this article I received the “draft that supposedly did not exist” from Eric Johnston at public works with a request for my input. The document, is still pretty terrible and should probably be called “impressions of a Dig Once Document” instead of a “Dig Once Policy.” It removed the ludicrous $300,000 feasibility study mentioned below, it still sets the thresholds too high to really be useful, and names specific companies that are allowed to talk to the COB about the network, instead of having a general policy that allows all parties leasing conduit and or fiber from the COB to participate in meetings. This clause would create a situation where the big telecoms are over-represented at the table with the COB like they already are. The document also sets the standards for high-speed Internet laughably low, at less than half of the Canadian standard for rural broadband, and defines Wireless networks as equivalent to wired fiber networks which they are NOT. Their request for my feedback is probably just a way for them to pretend that they are getting impartial information from impartial experts, although they have never given impartial experts an official meeting. Still, at least we’re talking about it for once. I have asked some other pros to respond as well, but we’re all 100% sure that they’re dragging their feet for no good reason.

Original Article:

I’ll start this Dig Once Update at the end, with a call to action to show up at City Hall on July 23rd at 6:40 p.m. to sign up to speak out in support of a Dig Once Policy and Public Broadband at the council meeting. We will also be outside at 6 p.m. with signs if you’d like to join us before the council meeting. I know, we just had to do this in April to keep them from trying to silently kill the idea on behalf of the big telecoms, but this time the stakes are even higher. This time, Ted Carlson went out of his way to direct his department to create a Dig Once Document that would be a policy in name only, ignoring the advice he received from many impartial experts, and the wishes of thousands in our community including some of your council members. He is doing this while hundreds of communities have successfully implemented public broadband solutions. On top of that, he is doing this after the disastrous AT&T/Time Warner merger which may effect news outlets like CNN and HBO. HBO does, from time to time, provide us with excellent documentaries on topics like the Katrina disaster. On the 23rd public works is going to recommend that the city not adopt the policy. I asked for an extension to the 30th so we could review the document and provide real feedback, but this request was ignored. After all, public works has shown that they don’t want real feedback from the pesky public. I’ll explain what happened. For those of you who need an update on what a Dig Once Policy is please click here.

Back in November, Mark Gardner prepared a report about public broadband with the help of many including myself. Christopher Mitchell of Community Broadband Networks also Skyped in on that date. Michael Lilliquist and Pinky Vargas had met with Kim Kleppe (the IT Director for the City of Mount Vernon who already has a publicly-owned fiber optic network with nine providers on it) and in general the council thought it was a good idea to look into it. Only April Barker seemed to have objections at this point. In April of this year, the council would pretend that they never heard anything about it, and try to silently kill it. Michael Lilliquist and Gene Knutson are the only real exceptions I can think of to all of this. Fortunately, as I’ve written about before, a group of amazing citizens showed up to prevent this and we were back to public works looking into creating a document at the request of the council on behalf of the citizens.You know, like they’re supposed to.

So public works set out to create a Dig Once Policy, or so they said. We recommended that they use the policies from some of the hundreds of other successful projects to base our Dig Once Policy on. In essence they could have taken and modified the Mount Vernon policy for use in Bellingham. Instead, they decided to make one from scratch — a move that no one really understood. Why re-invent the wheel? In April, they released a policy that was alarmingly bad, as I wrote about in my last article. The thresholds were so high, and there were so many exclusions, that it was obvious that Ted Carlson intended it to be a policy in name only. Michael Lilliquist responded with a large list of problems in the document and conferred with me to try and straighten it out. Some of this information was passed along to Ted, but only Michael knows how many of my concerns he shared, as public works and the council have had no official meetings with public broadband professionals. While Michael Lilliquist has been trying his best, it should be noted that the only official meetings they have held have been with the big anti-net neutral, anti-first amendment telecoms. Notably Comcast, CenturyLink and Ajit Pai’s favorite provider Verizon.

This week I was informed by our city’s attorney, James Erb, that the “new” Dig Once Policy will be available for viewing on July 18th. When I asked to see a draft to prepare for the meeting, since this is a complex document, I was informed that no draft was available since no work had been done on the document since April. Hopefully that will change in the coming days. In essence, Public Works blew off virtually all of the information they received even from Michael, and decided to leave the document as awful as possible. So, even when they are directed by the council to take a matter seriously, and do their job on behalf of their people, Public Works still blows it off. Who are we to ask them to look into common sense policies, get both sides of the story, and consult multiple experts? They consider you fortunate to pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for Internet provided via unethical providers who have virtual monopolies all over Bellingham. The fact that the speed they use to define “high speed internet” is less than half of the Canadian standard for a basic citizen’s rights connection, even in rural areas, doesn’t bother them at all. The fact that the low-income connections in Bellingham are so bad that they are the broadband equivalent of saying someone has a car because they have one on blocks in their yard, suits them just fine. Ted has even hidden behind the homelessness issue when he has run out of objections as I will explain below.

What’s really sad about all of this is that we have presented them with thousands of signatures. We have local providers that will use the network, meaning that it will NOT cost the city any money. They will actually make money off of leasing the resources to providers. Ninety-percent of the cost of installing a network has to do with excavation, meaning that a Dig Once Policy will save about 90% of the cost of installing this already cheap resource. So I want you to take a second, think about all of the excavations you saw around town this summer, like the water-main replacement in the Happy Valley Neighborhood, and then realize that by not putting conduit in at the same time your public works department made a conscious decision to have it cost an additional 90% more in the future. They are aware of this, as we have given them all of this information.

The Whatcom Democrats were kind enough to hear me out on the subject and have added creating a publicly-owned network to their 2019 platform. The bigger issue is that, political allegiances aside, Public Works is paid to create public infrastructure. It’s literally their job. When I brought this up to Ted at the December 2016 meeting he said, “We’re not even good at it; why are you asking us to do it?” As if that was an acceptable excuse. He then directed me to a company that charges $900 a month for gigabit fiber. Google charges $70 in Kansas City and will give you the equivalent of your Comcast connection here for free. Here are more cost comparisons for those who are interested. In short, we’re being robbed blind. Ted Carlson is aware of this, and previous comments he has made to me show that it doesn’t bother him at all. Of course, we will never get a real answer as to why because our current leaders in the government don’t believe in accountability.

Think about that for a second. Your Public Works director, who makes $144,000 a year plus benefits to create public infrastructure, can sit there and say, “Don’t bother us with creating a public infrastructure that keeps us competitive, creates jobs, and helps address virtually all of our social and political concerns” and get away with it. His boss, the mayor, won’t even look into it. Of course, this was right after Ted threatened to end my meeting on behalf of PSE when we brought up how their overpriced, inadequate infrastructure made it hard to expand using aerial methods in December 2016.

One of the most alarming things in their “from scratch” policy is the idea that a $300,000 feasibility study is needed for Public Works to move forward with this. This is obviously just more stalling on behalf of the big telecoms. Public Works installs conduit, and the work around it, all of the time for themselves at our expense. They know what is involved. They don’t need to spend $300,000 to find out. That $300,000 would be better spent on the first mile of publicly owned conduit and fiber.

All of this, plus all of the other issues I wrote about, create for Kelli Linville an excellent platform from which to launch an overdue investigation of this department. Recall that this department has even asked for the withdraw of public record requests in the past. Michael Lilliquist asks me to be patient since this is largely garden-variety government, but I think he is wrong. These are not simple mistakes by overworked people. At least not at the top. The people doing the real work are way below Ted Carlson’s position. These are deliberate moves being made to protect the big telecoms. How do I know? Besides all of the other research I’ve done presented in the articles I’ve written, at presentations, and in many other forms, I will list the false arguments being made by the big telecoms and being repeated verbatim by the upper echelon of public works below. April Barker also says a lot of the same things that public works does about telecom.

Still, we all know that Mayor Linville herself, and some of the members of the council, answer to their corporate friends before the public. We see this in both their action, inaction, and lack of care about giving us real choice and protecting us from anti-net-neutral, anti-first-amendment, companies like Comcast, Century-Link, AT&T, and Verizon. One would think that someone that uses their position to aide companies that have attacked our first amendment rights would not be allowed to hold office, especially when a better solution is available, but I guess that’s just where we’re at.

Recently I was asked the very fair question, “If the government is so corrupt, then why do we want them to do this?” The answer is simple. Hundreds of other communities have done this successfully and improved their communities by doing so. The big telecom model does NOT work. I have shown this many times and blown apart the city’s excuses made on behalf of the big telecoms in previous articles, at presentations and at many other occasions. Public Works does not want the information, because they don’t want to do their job. However, in a properly functioning government, this can be a great benefit to our community and help us all succeed. We just need to get rid of the dead-weight that doesn’t appreciate making about eight times what the lower third of the population in Bellingham does.

I’ll bet that if we had a different mayor, who gave us a different Public Works director, this would already be done. Remember, they have their own municipal fiber network and they have known about this issue for decades. Fiber is necessary to make everything else work well, including wireless communications, and the city will make money on leasing. The only entities that this is bad for, are the big telecoms that overcharge us and attack our rights.

I leave you with a list of the false big telecom arguments I have heard from public works and their facts that show they’re inaccurate.

Argument: We have real problems in Bellingham, like homelessness, we can’t spend money on this. (Said by Ted Carlson at the December 2016 meeting.)

Fact: The homeless, like everyone, need real access to broadband. That’s part of the reason that Canada defines real access to broadband as a right and their standard is more than double ours for high-speed internet. The better their access the better their chances for recovery, housing, training jobs, etc. Here is a list of the social benefits of broadband. I have discussed this with many people working on the homeless issue and they are as disgusted as I am that Ted would hide behind the homeless issue to protect the big telecoms. We’re talking about putting down inexpensive conduit when repairs are done. It’s not like they did, or will, stop all repairs as they continue to largely NOT work on the homelessness issue. Giving people real access to broadband can help get the homeless back into jobs and homes. For example, where are most job postings and free education resources kept now. Online you say? Yes you’re correct.

Argument: It’s just too expensive to do.

Fact: A Dig Once Policy reduces the cost of installing conduit and fiber by 90%. So any numbers you are getting from public works are probably 90% too high. Also, even without a Dig Once policy most communities our size are installing a mile of conduit, with 96-count fiber, for between 100 and 200 thousand per mile. Also, the infrastructure pays for itself through leasing, fiber increases the value of homes, and one of the largest growth industries in the world right now are small internet based businesses. More people with more good jobs equals more tax revenue for the city. Also, the big telecoms were already given $400 billion to provide fiber to the home connections to Americans that they stole. That’s right, you should already have a fiber to the home connection.

Argument: Most Bellingham residents have at least 2 choices in providers.

Fact: Bellingham is full of virtual monopolies and our choices are poor. This is shown if you actually do the numbers like I have. I wrote previously about the Big Telecom propoganda map that the COB released and what services are actually like in Bellingham in relation to the map. Real fiber service, not the pretend copper based gigabit stuff with data caps you see being advertised now, remain expensive to connect to, hard to access, and are offered at high prices.

Argument: Bringing in CenturyLink broke up the Comcast monopoly.

Fact: Hardly. For starters, Their new service is not available to all. Historically, the big telecoms do not really compete with each other. They prefer to carve out territories. There is no real competition among them. Users of the service report non-symmetrical connections, meaning they’re fiber like but not a true fiber connection which is symmetrical, and independent testers report that the connections don’t perform at 100% when tested. Are they better than others in Bellingham? Well with the bar so low in Bellingham, maybe. However, they are still too expensive and CenturyLink is an anti-net neutral company. CenturyLink is also in multiple class action lawsuits for misrepresenting themselves. Here is a case from King County.

Argument: Bellingham is a Super Fiber Rich Community already.

Fact: This laughable argument was made to public broadband supporters by salespeople from WAVE broadband, and Ted Carlson, who overrepresented the amount of fiber they had. They said that WAVE has almost 500 miles of fiber. That sounds impressive right but the real question becomes in what configuration? Maybe if they pulled all of their bundles out and put each strand in a straight line, in an almost totally useless configuration they have that much. It’s kind of like learning that a human intestine is about 7.5 meters long when stretched out until you realize that if you had an intestine out of a person, stretched out, they would probably be dead. One of their salespeople also hid behind the homeless issue in the aforementioned way that Ted did. Maybe it’s where he got the idea. Who knows?

While I applaud WAVE for being net-neutral, the cost of gigabit services via WAVE is almost $900 a month. Again, it’s $68 a month for gigabit service in Chatanooga, TN, $70 in Kansas City, $25 in Japan, the list goes on. Since WAVE’s recent purchase by a San-Francisco Company they now say they support public broadband. I am happy to hear this even though it technically means that we’ve lost another local provider. This is the smartest thing they can do. By leasing cheap conduit they can reach many more customers than ever before. Sure, they may have to charge a reasonable rate for fiber, since there will be actual competition, but they could easily beat Comcast and CenturyLink if public resources are made available via a Dig Once Policy. PogoZone is also net-neutral and the largest provider of fiber in Skagit County and Mount Vernon via their public networks. PogoZone is a local company.

Argument: “Why not just wait for wireless?” Made by Ted Carlson in December 2016. Recall that Ted also tried to shoehorn through a small cell bill, on behalf of Verizon, in the not too distant past.

Fact: You need fiber, lots of fiber, to do wireless. If that fiber is owned by one entity, like Verizon, then we will just have another virtual monopoly. There are also some health concerns surrounding the technology that need further, independent, investigation. Small cells are not nearly as good as DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems) and lower home values.

Argument: Ted says, “We can’t just drop everything and work on public broadband.”

Fact: No one is asking them to. They have not only known about this problem for decades. A Dig Once policy is intended to be implemented as other repairs are done. They have also been offered a lot of free, expert, help. For example, members of the community have offered to prepare the Dig Once documents for public works and even install equipment as volunteers. They refused this offer, stating that they prefer their staff to do so. Now I think we see why. It’s so they can drag their heels on really doing anything about it.

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

Dick Conoboy

Jul 13, 2018

Like licensing rental units and inspecting them should have been a no brainer (but I worked on getting THAT passed for over a decade), your propostions on fiber should be a no-brainer except here in Bizarro World where the watchword of city hall is to take care of the businesses first.  So much for our risibly dubbed “progressive” city council and city administration. 


Jon Humphrey

Jul 14, 2018

Yeah, infrastructure upgrades are a no-brainer in general. I try not to explain anything with conspiracy that I can explain with stupidity or laziness, but just the fact that they’re creating a Dig Once Policy from scratch, when we have tried and true documents to use to base ours on from successful projects, tells me that they are still trying to write the document to benefit the big telecoms first. See my update above for details.