So the songs I have in mind as I write this time are Jane’s Addiction’s Been Caught Stealin, Long Black Veil by Johnny Cash, and Jolene by Dolly Parton. They are all songs about cheating, stealing, and being caught doing so, which is what we caught the big telecoms doing while reviewing the City of Bellingham’s Broadband Advisory Group applications this morning. Now, since I’m an applicant myself, it would be inappropriate for me to tell you exactly what to do with this information, but I think it’s pretty obvious that having an advisory group filled with special interests is not in the interest of the people or in the spirit of this group. Jokingly, I mentioned to a friend that perhaps as a compromise, when a telecom lobbyist, CTO, etc. tried to make their way onto a citizen’s committee, they should have to wear a high visibility T-shirt with big letters stating which company they represent.
Out of the 28 candidates, we found six who are trying to make their way onto the committee to protect their company’s interests. Below is the list. They are numbered in the order their application comes up in the application packet.
One last note. “Red Flag” refers to candidates who are, or were, aligned with big telecom and most likely applying specifically to represent those interests, like Vincent Buys is to Comcast. So here are the Red Flag candidates. Public Works Director Eric Johnston and IT Director Marty Mulholland have referred to each of them as experts and referred others to them whenever the idea of public infrastructure has come up. As an aside, there is a swanky broadband party thrown every year at a WAVE executive’s mansion—which I have never been invited to. Wonder why. ;) I’m not losing any sleep over it.
#3 David Brinn
Red Flag: Sr. Manager, Fiber-Construction Project Management for WAVE Broadband
Pros: While he greatly overstates the design of the networks in Bellingham and Whatcom County, he does have a reasonable amount of experience installing fiber and designing fiber networks.
Cons: There are obvious conflicts of interest here: We know that Public Works Director Johnston often refers people directly to WAVE. WAVE overcharges their clients enormously for their services, and their services are not available everywhere. The Port’s fiber inventory found that almost half of WAVE’s strands were broken and poorly maintained. And, according to the application, this would be Brinn’s first community service project.
Potential Bias: There is an obvious interest here for WAVE to maintain the status quo and keep our community from moving forward in order to protect their bottom line. They want to be the only fiber provider in Bellingham and have a monopoly, and they’re pretty close to doing that. Unfortunately, they charge 13.5 times the cost of fiber in places like Anacortes, Chattanooga, Wilson, N.C., and more. There is no way he can be an objective member of the group.
#5 Vincent Buys
Red Flag: He is a Comcast lobbyist.
Cons: His application indicates insufficient education and experience with networks. In fact, his application doesn’t list much relevant experience at all other than that he works for Comcast, which isn’t relevant in this case since we don’t want special interests on a citizen’s committee. I have rarely seen an application filled out so poorly even when I helped hire people for minimum wage jobs of sorting books at a bookstore. It gives the impression he didn’t even bother to try because he either believes he deserves a seat on the committee, or believes he has already been granted one.
As a former State Representative, Vincent always went to bat for Comcast and big telecom against the interests of 99.9% of his citizens. His application even states that he is applying to represent Comcast’s interests specifically. In “qualifications related to the position” he lists his reason for applying as, “Industry Representative.” This is probably Comcast’s polite way of trying to force the city to put them on the advisory group. He tops it off with, “I am an employee of Comcast who does business with the City of Bellingham,” as if that in itself is a qualification equivalent to real world experience. Sorry Vincent, it’s not. It’s time to let the grown-ups with real tech experience have adult conversations because we’re in a crisis and need these resources and we don’t have time to take special care of Comcast right now. Also, it’s totally inappropriate to have a Comcast lobbyist on a CITIZEN advisory group.
Possible Bias: There is no doubt that Comcast expects Vincent to perform here and protect their interests. There is no way he can be an objective member of the group.
#9 Luke Deryckx
Red Flag: He is the CEO of Ookla, the company that runs the pro-big-telecom biased online speedtester, speedtest.net.
Pros: He has some experience designing network speed testers and 23 years of network experience.
Cons: He is part of the current, captured, FCC’s rural broadband task force. This means he is likely to push for big telecom interests for inferior, “non-fiber to the premises” technologies instead of building real infrastructure. Remember, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai would not have picked Luke if Luke didn’t back up special interests. Also, he made a very pretty, but inaccurate speedtester that skews the results of connection tests in big telecom’s favor as I described in this article. This is why your big telecom often refers you to speedtest.net when you ask them why your connection is so poor.
Possible Biases: For years, the very inaccurate speetest.net has been used to keep communities from running authentic network load tests that would actually show the real quality of a connection. We need genuine results from someone who isn’t so closely linked to big telecom and hasn’t gone out of their way to protect them for decades.
#21 Allen Meeks
Red Flag: VP, for Corporate Development/MOX Networks, a Private Fiber interest.
Pros: 17 years of networking experience including designing and installing fiber networks. He worked with the City of Mount Vernon of developing policy for their public fiber network.
Cons: His comments in the application seem to indicate that he believes no relevant conversation has taken place in our community unless he has been involved in it. He talks a lot about what he believes can and can’t be done with the existing network but gives no details, which is almost always a hint that he is for maintaining the status quo. MOX is headquartered out of state just like Comcast, CenturyLink, Verizon, AT&T, etc. This is probably a self-serving, corporate grab at the position. Also, he has ties to CenturyLink, WAVE, Black Rock, and CSS to name a few. So he is probably protecting private fiber interests.
Potential Biases: It is in his interest to protect private, overpriced solutions and maintain the status quo.
#22 Milissa Miller
Red Flag: WAVE, Black Rock and CSS, former VP for WAVE and Black Rock.
Pros: Experience installing fiber and managing teams. Experience with large networks. Some community service. Long time computer user (since 1980).
Cons: She has many ties to special interest providers that want to maintain the status quo, like WAVE, CSS and Black Rock. She is good at avoiding the discussion of how unaffordable, and poorly laid-out private fiber services are in this area, and greatly overstates the usefulness of the companies she is tied to, especially WAVE. She makes a false argument for the availability of existing services and access to them and ignores the obscene cost of private fiber services here.
Potential Biases: I expect to see loyalty to her previous employers over our citizens and the same, tired, false arguments of “Bellingham is wired up better than San Francisco, etc.” No, it’s not.
#24 David Namura
Red Flag: Director Lumen formerly known as CenturyLink
Pros: None listed. This guy didn’t even bother to try. Like Vincent Buys, he simply reminds you that he works for CenturyLink and therefore expects you to comply with his company’s wishes. Remember, even with their crappy service, Comcast and CL think they’re doing us a favor and believe they deserve a seat on a CITIZEN advisory group even if it’s totally inappropriate, which it is.
Cons: The candidate simply reminds us that he works for CenturyLink and that CenturyLink has a franchise agreement with the city. We should remember that when the COB signed that agreement over four years ago, even after five years of negotiating with them, CenturyLink still told us they would leave with their pretend fiber service if they didn’t see at least 20% adoption, and we wouldn’t even get a local office without 30%. He lists no other relevant experience. This is a big telecom guy telling you how you’re going to act and reminding you that he thinks we have to put up with him and have no other choices. Withdrawal of Comcast or CenturyLink, in a way that left us high and dry, would result in many easily winnable class action lawsuits. So don’t be afraid. We don’t need them in the modern age anyway. We don’t even need them for our public access station. Remember, CenturyLink was in so many class action lawsuits that they had to rebrand themselves as Lumen.
Potential Biases: He is specifically applying to represent the interests of Lumen formerly known as CenturyLink. There is no way he can be an objective member of the committee.
It should be noted that some of these candidates do have useful experience in telecom and it may be appropriate for the BAG to meet with them, preferably in a totally transparent way. However, as I write this, it has been 215 days since the March 23rd lockdown. We need these resources to help people stay productive and healthy and the COB is still just forming the group, as slowly as possible, as I discussed in this article. As a community, we don’t have time to play games with these providers or allow them to infiltrate a citizen committee to protect their bottom line. We need real change.