Before I say anything else, let me clear up a question I’ve been fairly asked a few times lately. I have said that the council has NOT met with Mount Vernon but has met with several big telecoms. This is true, but Pinky Vargas was annoyed when I told the public the truth. Let me explain why that is. The council may have meetings of up to two council members with anyone informally and essentially unofficially. So yes, Michael Lilliquist and Pinky Vargas did meet unofficially with Kim Kleppe, the IT director for the City of Mount Vernon which has a public fiber network, but no official meeting of the council ever took place with Mount Vernon. This is one of the things public broadband supporters recommended at the city council meeting on July 23rd. While I did receive an e-mail from Gene Knutson thanking me for my work on public broadband, and stating that Ted Carlson (our Public Works director) did finally call Mount Vernon the day after the meeting, even if he does personally meet with them, this is still not an official meeting of the council with Mount Vernon. We still need them to have an official meeting with them. Why? The answer is simple; we need them to officially accept professional counsel from pros outside of the big-telecom community. What are our council members afraid of? That they might actually learn something from pros who don’t work for the big telecoms and aren’t selfish? I should note that in November they did have one short Skype meeting with Christopher Mitchell of Community Broadband Networks. It was a very general meeting.
The answer to this might be in the COB’s continued odd behavior and support of the big anti-net neutral, anti-first amendment telecoms as we noticed again on Monday night. They tried to cram three large telecom issues through at the same time. They were:
1. Municipal Broadband: This is the existing network that backs up and serves our critical services like schools, libraries, and emergency services. The health of this network is directly related to how reliable and safe our network, and, therefore, our services are. This is used internally for COB and related use. Upgrading this network needs to be a top priority and will cost 90 percent less if paired with a Dig Once Policy. Remember, even wireless networks like 5G need lots of fiber backing them up to be good. This is true of pretty much any network technology you can think of. The faster your signal gets to fiber, the better it will be.
2. Dig Once: Please see this article for an explanation of Dig Once. I want to thank the many supporters who showed up to speak out in support of Dig Once on Monday the 23rd. Only one speaker made the tired, old, easy to disprove, “current private providers meet our needs” argument and, of course, avoided mentioning that their company charges almost 14 times for the same service in Bellingham that they do in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on their public network. Ted Carlson again snuck the ludicrous, unnecessary, $300K feasibility study into the document. They also say now that they did reference a town in Kansas of about 8,000 people, but reading through the draft it still looks like it was written by a 5th grader using CliffsNotes. I see no evidence of real research and using a town with 8,000 people in it for reference is crazy. We recommended that they use the Mount Vernon documents.
On top of all of this, their own numbers are starting to contradict each other. I wrote before about how they quoted $400,000 per mile for conduit installation, which was 4 times what it cost in other similar cities. They are now saying that “an engineers estimate” puts a Roder Ave. fiber install at $1.5 Million. So now they are saying that their costs have gone up almost 4 times over their original costs which were 4 times too high. They also literally use vague language like “an engineer” instead of naming the engineer or any specifics in the documents. I asked them to get a second opinion. None of these quotes were done using a Dig Once policy, which reduces the expense by 90%. It’s almost as if they’re trying to get the highest quotes possible.
3. Small Cells for Verizon and other big telecom providers: This would include using much of the public infrastructure that they lied to us about being unusable. Turns out it is usable. The presentation for Small Cells was made by the city’s attorney Matt Stamps, which is odd since you would think that someone with technical competence would make a presentation about technology. Matt literally said, “I think that’s a telephone pole,” while looking at an incredibly ugly picture of a telephone pole with small cells on it. Matt and Ted assured us that a representative from Verizon was there to answer our questions. Think about that — your government is referring you to Verizon specifically, but does not name them in the Small Cell Document. They also used none of the local experts, like J. D. Sinclair from PogoZone, who is very well-versed with both fiber and wireless tech, to make their decisions. See my last article for details. I wasn’t going to even make a speech on small cells, being there primarily for Dig Once, but decided to do so after the COB’s blatant show of inappropriate favoritism by our government to Ajit Pai’s favorite big telecom, Verizon. More importantly, like in the CenturyLink case, this shows a deep and inappropriate relationship between the big telecoms and our city government. Better solutions like Distributed Antenna Systems, weren’t even part of the presentation. There was no explanation as to why. Everything in the document seems to have been written with Ajit Pai’s and Verizon’s approval. Small cells are cheaper for the big telecoms, and they don’t care what the other impacts to the community are. They again suggested the removal of a land use policy.
I will provide you with one other important piece of news. While at Monday’s meeting, I learned from a local private provider that T-Mobile tried to create a Wi-Fi network, using the street lights, that they ultimately abandoned. Remember, they already pull public fiber into the street lights, they just won’t let the public that paid for it use it. When T-Mobile abandoned this infrastructure, they donated it to the City who could have used it to create a substantial public network. The city never pursued this for reasons they are stonewalling us on. In the background, some of the local providers asked for access to it; I mean why not if it’s just rotting there? Let’s let someone who can use it put it to work. They refused them access as well. So there you are. As we keep looking into this, two things are becoming clearer all of the time.
1. They lied to us about the usefulness of the existing public network. It is apparently more than good enough to let Verizon and other anti-net neutral, anti-first amendment, private providers from outside of Bellingham and Whatcom County use. Just not the public, or local providers, that paid for it according to the COB.
2. There are unused, existing, elements of this public infrastructure that were donated to us, that could be used immediately for the public good, that they simply never switched on. This is, at the very least, a lost opportunity for revenue for the city. I have asked why and received no response. Maybe it’s because, in our environment, the truth is that even 5G wireless will not be truly adequate so we need fiber more than wireless. Most importantly, it shows that they lied to us and we caught them red-handed doing it. I can’t wait to hear the explanations.
In the end all of the items went back to committee for further review. This could be a very good thing, or just another stalling technique. With everything that’s happened, it’s obvious that the mayor needs to investigate the public works department. It is also obvious that she won’t. Neither will Roxanne Murphy or April Barker if they become mayor. Further, as the players change among the staff at city hall, we may not be able to get any information out of them. They’ve already made it very hard to do. This is why it’s very important that we all vote. I would love to be writing articles about how amazing and transparent our government is, and how hard they’re working for the people.
Still, we need to face facts. The reality is that this regressive administration is not looking out for our needs. Recently, Bellingham rated among the 50 worst cities in America to live in. Personally, I don’t look at it that way. I love Bellingham and still consider it the best place I’ve ever lived in, but we need to start solving our problems. This includes using fiber to attract next generation businesses and new technology in general to help us address most of our social and economic issues. It’s time for new leadership and to look at actions, not just words, from our leaders.