Secret Telecom Lovers Part 2: Been Caught Cheating

By

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.

Pros: None.

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.

Summation

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.

Related Links

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

Aaron Brand

Oct 25, 2020

Thanks for helping move us, as a community, forward with a plan for improving access to broadband. As you mention briefly (and as I would argue will further efforts to diminish the learning gap that exists in schools for students in lower-income families), improving access is important for those of us working remotely in the current lockdown. If I couldn’t afford to spend thousands of dollars each year for broadband I would not be working right now since my current contract is about 85% remote work. However, I would also argue that having citizens (yes, these are citizens that work for, represent, and own stock in, large telecoms) from all walks should make the plan that much more comprehensive. I think that, rather than being divisive and negative toward members of this group it’s worthwhile to try to work together. It’s clear from your writing that that’s not something you are interested in doing. Perhaps giving us peons a call to action to help with this process would be a good next step. 

Read More...

Jon Humphrey

Oct 25, 2020

Thanks for your thoughts Aaron. As I stated in my article the BAG should meet with some of these people. I am more than willing to listen to many different points of view on this topic, as I believe the BAG should gather as much information as possible to make the best decision. However, it’s not possible for people to be objective when they’re protecting their own or corporate interests. Out of the remaining 22 applicants many of them have the necessary experience to make excellent members of this committee. There therefore is no need to involve special interests which would be against the interests of the public.

Read More...

Michael Lilliquist

Oct 28, 2020

Keeping an eye on the formation of the Broadband Advisory Workgroup is a good idea, Jonm but let’s not jump to conclusions.  Mayor Fleetwood has not proposed the members yet. Just because someone applies does not mean they will be appointed.

I am very much aware of the conflicts of interest here. Constraining those conflicts was one of the top subjects I discussed with the Administration as the workgroup idea was developed.  That’s the reason why I suggested the language that members should have “no direct benefit to a current employer or business interest.”  It’s a tough balance to strike, because obviously we want people with professional experience, and anyone with a professional background may be seen as having a conflict of interest.

In a brief conversation with Eric Johnston last month, he suggested that industry professionals with an “active” conflict of interests might be included on a less formal basis, as non-voting participants. They would not be full members.  This is the same status as the reps from the Port of Bellingham and the School District.  This would enable some industry perspective, but not control over outcomes and recommendations.

The City Council’s resolution establishing the Workgroup established the goals and purpose for their work; that cannot be changed by the Workgroup members. This should help keep the group on target to evaluate the value of “municipally-owned broadband infrastructure” to further the public’s interest in accessibility, affordability, and equity.

Read More...

Jon Humphrey

Oct 28, 2020

Dear readers, Michael also sent me the same reply in my private e-mail. Here is a copy of my reply to him there.

“Thanks Michael. I did NOT say that Mayor Fleetwood appointed the members yet, however city staff have referred myself, and many others to all of these companies at some point before as a way to pretend like we have the infrastructure we need, deflect, etc. Obviously, we do not and we needed to start 5 years ago when I first approached the city/county about this. Among people we should meet with are the IT directors of Anacortes and Mount Vernon along with Christopher Mitchell of Community Broadband Networks again and someone from PUD 3. I can go on with recommendations. Since we have so many experts to call on that have no conflicts of interest, why include the telecoms at all?
We should not stop there though. One of the only benefits to waiting, and I assure you it does not outweigh the benefit of having this technology, is that multimode fiber keeps getting better and having a further reach. The entire Mount Vernon system is single mode and they carry 8 wavelengths per strand, they are starting to upgrade though to 16. There is equipment that can do 32, but the price point is different. Still, this (meaning 8) is close to what our network should be able to do if it was actually being maintained as Public Works says it is. The current MV standard, light years ahead of B-Ham, is about 15 years old. The COB still refuses to release basic numbers on the networks’ capabilities, although there is no security risk in it. For example, telling us how many wavelengths per strand the COB network can do gives would be attackers no real specific data to use against it that you can’t guess at anyway. It would, however, help us plan. MV, etc. give this information away freely. There also was no need to delay on the adoption of Open Access or Dig Once policies. The benefits of transparency far outweigh the risks. Besides, you should be watching your traffic anyway.
So in short, the first thing the committee will need is accurate numbers on the capabilities of the existing network beyond just where lit and dark fiber strands are.”
Read More...
To comment, Log In or Register