TAGNW Recaptured By Big Telecom

With the loss of Michael Gan, TAGNW has become a puppet organization of big telecom that is aggressively working against the public interest.

With the loss of Michael Gan, TAGNW has become a puppet organization of big telecom that is aggressively working against the public interest.

When I started fighting for the critical infrastructure of a publicly-owned fiber-optic network in Bellingham and Whatcom County, I immediately encountered roadblocks from the Linville administration. One of the ways the COB tried to prevent access to the existing publicly owned fiber-optic network was by getting the corrupt director of TAGNW (Technology Alliance Group for Northwest Washington) to lie on behalf of big telecom donors. At that time, the director of TAGNW was happy to regurgitate big telecom’s position that “a lack of fiber was not a barrier to economic development in Bellingham.” This position also provided cover for Ted Carlson, the former director of public works. Of course, this was untrue at the time and, as the pandemic made clear, remains untrue to this day.

A few years later, Michael Gan become the director of TAGNW. Gan tried to make it a real community organization: we instituted a program to distribute computer kits to very low-income individuals in partnership with the Bellingham Public Libraries and developed a proper nationwide broadband strategy document. Unfortunately, TAGNW’s big telecom donors were threatened by Michael’s community-based approach and he was let go.

Big telecoms that provided fake fiber service, like CenturyLink and Ziply, were particularly worried about the broadband document’s suggestion of more accurate RRUL network load testing (Realtime Response Under Load). They knew that such testing would expose their deficient fiber connections.

WAVE was concerned because the document would have established realistic pricing for fiber that matched Mount Vernon, Anacortes, Hillsboro and many other areas that have public fiber. WAVE would have had real competition and have been kept from charging their current obscene rates of 13.5 times the price for monthly Gigabit service, and 35 times higher hook-up fees than public networks. Wholesail (the fiber arm of Ziply) and CSSNW charge even more than WAVE. 

John Servais wrote about my experiences trying to formalize a broadband strategy document for Whatcom County and how WAVE executives, who were members of the TAG panel, opposed and co-opted the document.

But, the telecoms couldn’t have done it alone, they had inside political help. When big telecom wasn’t getting what it wanted, Andrew Redding of the Corporate Democrats stepped in to make sure that WAVE, Comcast, and the rest got what they wanted by sabotaging the TAGNW Connectivity Group and removing real citizen advocates in retaliation for legit connections made between the Shewmake Cartel and big telecom. He was supported in this by the chair of the 42nd Democrats, Jamie Douglass, who hoped to use public funds to establish yet another private broadband company with his son Dan Douglass. To this date Jamie and Dan’s project is one of only two for which Christine Grant of the PUD even applied for funding. Funding they are unlikely to get thanks to how corrupt our State Broadband Office is. The PUD itself refuses to take any kind of leading role in the broadband argument even though every commissioner ran on a public broadband platform.  

Eventually, this all led to Michael Gan being let go as director. With him went any chance of TAGNW supporting a Dig Once Policy, RRUL testing, and working for the public interest. With the loss of Michael Gan, TAGNW has again become a puppet organization of big telecom that is aggressively working against the public interest. So for now, the little good that TAGNW does is greatly outweighed by the damage to the public interest they do on behalf of big telecom. Just as it was in the past.

How serious is the problem? Anyone who is connected to a child currently in school can tell you that any student in a 3rd grade or higher is way behind in STEM education, especially math, thanks to time missed in the classroom during the pandemic. While the schools tried to get high priced wireless devices to some kids, most of these devices turned out to be virtually worthless especially when compared to public fiber connections in other parts of the state and country. While the schools are making a valiant effort to catch our kids up it is obvious that much of the educational damage done to our civilization by a lack of fiber to the home connections during the pandemic is severe.  Since every dollar spent on education results in about $6 made back in the economy, one wonders how giving our kids poor broadband connections to learn with makes any sense to even the most staunch capitalist. 

My first clue about this sick collaboration between our fake progressive organizations, abusive corporations and 2022 Whatcom Democrats Chair Andrew Redding came years ago, when I RRUL tested a public-facing connection at the Starbucks near REI. The AT&T connection Starbucks had was awful, so I sent them the test results. After all, if anyone could afford to solve their connection problems it’s Starbucks. It never occurred to me their reaction might be hostile to their own customers. So, I was surprised by their reply that they “didn’t appreciate my unsolicited testing.” When I approached Andrew Redding about it in a TAGNW Connectivity Group meeting, instead of calling out Starbucks, he stood up for them saying, “Well, maybe Starbucks felt threatened by testing.” Really Andrew, Starbucks is the victim here because they chose to provide poor connections then advertise their virtually worthless connectivity to their customers? So in spite of every progressive in his entire party, including Bernie, calling out Howard Schultz and Starbucks for far-reaching terrible behavior, Redding and the fake progressives of the Whatcom Democrats instead protected their interests. That’s because our local Democrats aren’t progressive.

So I guess this makes some sick sense. A fake benevolent non-profit to provide fake solutions to align with our fake progressive Democratic party. It’s all fake and there is no real progress except for their big money donors. Just the way they like 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

George Dyson

Feb 23, 2023

When the Right-of-Way in front of my building on Holly Street was dug up (alongside the abandoned streetcar line) to put in the main fiber optic trunk cable some 20 to 30 years ago (and internet access was still dial-up) I remember thinking “Surely COB and POB are making arrangements for us to get connected to it.” All these years and wasted $$$ and opportunities later, the answer is still “No.”


David Donohue

Feb 23, 2023

I remember when Mayor Asmundson was promoting public fiber, and was shouted down by the business community, as public initiatives were unfashionable at the time.  What a lost opportunity.  I do hope the PUD can be brought around.  


Dick Conoboy

Feb 23, 2023

 For all intents and purposes we are in the grips of corporatocracy at all levels of government.  Lawmakers align themselves with the  corporations and the citizenry is basically ignored within a system that is euphemistically called representative democracy.  Dissent is allowed and even encouraged but is nothing more than “kabuki theater”.  We get to vote for representatives who are more often than not selected and vetted by the two major parties.  True choice is nullified.  What we see with the TAGNW is corrective action to bring the renegade-run organization to heel.  This has been dictated by corporate entities and tolerated by the local elected leaders although at times with a great or not so great show of feigned indignance and disapproval.

Emma Goldman, the famous and to some notorious, Russian-born anarchist once said that “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”  Emma was actually jailed overnight in the basement of the old Bellingham city hall before being sent packing by the local authorities.  I can imagine a conversation between Emma and Michael Gan.   



Jon Humphrey

Feb 27, 2023

Thanks everyone for their valuable commentary. I have some updates.
1. Michael is planning on starting a new non-profit. How will it be funded? Probably by some special interest money too… He would not comment either way. I am also thinking of starting one of my own. If I do you can be sure it will never be funded by big telecom. We would start with an RRUL testing project. I don’t really have the time to do it, but it’s also obvious that we need to stop looking to existing organizations and companies for help.
2. The Port put in a bit of fine print to the work they’re doing on public broadband. Rob Fix is trying to push an agenda where the infrastructure they are putting in using public funds will ultimately be given away to private interests.
3. As I’ve written about before, the COB refuses to upgrade to even the Mount Vernon fiber standard when doing excavations.
Our problems are so much deeper than Democrats vs. Republicans. It’s obvious that the entire system is corrupt, and we need new parties.


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