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Ghosts of Maps Past (A Journey Though COBs Inadequate Fiber Maps)

By On

I know, I’ve produced a few maps for your consideration throughout this process. The first “GIS” map I received had the word approximate at the bottom of it. I tried contacting the City directly to get it, but after being blown off for weeks I did a public records request. After a few more weeks, I finally ended up with the map. You might recognize it from the petition site. You may also notice as you look at the maps that none of them really include the kind of things you would expect from a department that has engineers and others on staff that deal with numbers everyday. For example, they do not have conduit sizes or fiber counts. Instead, the latest map looks like it was put together by a big-telecom salesman. At your expense of course. You can click on the maps to see larger versions of them at the bottom.

I put the maps in the order that I received them. It is important to note again that none of the maps is accurate or adequate. Since November, all Ted Carlson did was take these approximate, pitiful documents, and indicate how many providers he believes you have good access to on them with a few other shiny things to try and distract you. These connections are defined by the lowest standards possible for connection speed and no regard is given to their ethics or standard of service. Just like Ajit Pai of the FCC. He could have spent the time instead finding the missing resources, or installing conduit, or at least coming up with a plan to install conduit. But regurgitating the beliefs of the big anti-net neutral, anti-first amendment telecoms, and protecting them, must have been more important.

Fiber Map 1 - see link below article for largest view.
Fiber Map 1 - see link below article for largest view.

The first map was hard to get. After trying to work with the Public Works department directly, I was not provided with any real data for months. So I decided to do my first public records request. Even Michael Lilliquist said that, “The map I got was hard to get.” Why such a virtually worthless map was hard to get was comical, but at the time I was happy to have anything to use. I knew I’d have to do better later. Fiber Map 1 might look pretty, but it is very bad for many reasons. While it shows the approximate locations of things, it does not indicate the size of the conduit, fiber counts, or capacity in any way. It was, at best, better than nothing.

So I moved on to making a new public records request to include the missing details. I went through the same song and dance. Public Works tried to pretend that my request was too broad, when it was very specific, and James Erb got involved to try and straighten things out. He had been involved once before when Public Works asked me to withdraw a public records request when I asked for the cost of a street repair that included conduit. This was how I met James. We found out together that Public Works could not produce receipts for almost all of the equipment they’ve purchased in relation to the network. That period covers about 3 decades.

1980s hand drawn map
1980s hand drawn map

Public Works then provided James with the hand-drawn map which was the “best they had” from an accuracy standpoint anyway, in an attempt to be left alone. As you can see, the hand-drawn map leaves much to be desired. Fortunately, in November the council had asked Ted Carlson and Public Works to investigate a Dig Once Policy, to be ready in Q2 of this year. James Erb also told me that they had purchased software to help them finally create an accurate map, including all of the missing resources.

I waited patiently again. In the meantime, did some interviews, tried to talk about 5G, etc. and why we still need public fiber, Dig Once, and an Open Internet. Then on Friday the city announced that Dig Once was back for consideration again. You see, after my article on the mayor, the schedule of the Dig Once Policy was moved up to try and keep us from preparing. The city is again not going to listen to any impartial experts at the April 23rd meeting. Oddly, we were going back to Public Works not working on a real policy, and to Public Works simply asking for the advice of the council again. As in the past, Ted will erroneously quote that Dig Once is too expensive and ignore all of the data he has received to the contrary. Kind of like how the current White House is treating global warming. No matter how much evidence you present to Ted and Mayor Linville, they just won’t listen when it comes to broadband.

All of this led to Map 2, which still doesn’t come close to being accurate, and fulfilling my records request. The map is more colorful, and pretends that you have a real choice in providers with competitive rates and speeds, but that’s about it. The speeds they quote would be hilariously low, if they hadn’t spent our money building this, denied us access to it, and lied about the network so much. For example, the new map has a legend that to non-techies probably looks impressive, but it only lists speeds of approximately greater than 25 MBits down and 3 up. Let me put that in perspective for the non-techies. The whole country of Canada is guaranteeing a 50 MBits down, 10 up connection to its citizens as a basic human right. So virtually for free. Here we pay about $60 for that with Comcast. In Japan it’s $25 a month for 1,000 MBits down and up. In Kansas City it’s $70 for 1,000 MBits down and up. You are being robbed blind by some of the most unethical companies in American history, but Ted doesn’t see a problem with that. In fact, the map shows that he considers you to have many choices.

Fiber Map 2 (The Pro-Big Telecom Propaganda Map) - see link to largest view below article.
Fiber Map 2 (The Pro-Big Telecom Propaganda Map) - see link to largest view below article.

Notice how the map also tries to argue that because you have a virtually worthless connection of 25/3 or more from mostly anti-net neutral, anti-first amendment providers, literally about 2 orders of magnitude less than people enjoy on public networks in other cities, that you are fine. To Ted Carlson, Kelli Linville, Ajit Pai, Donald Trump and Doug Ericksen, if you have two providers at all, no matter the quality of service they provide, or the prices they charge, you supposedly have choice. Even if those connections are virtually worthless, unethically provided, and/or unaffordable. In fact you may even have a choice between 3 low-quality, over-priced connections. Feel like you have choice now? Think of it in terms of food. Imagine that you have 3 awful choices in food. You can choose between the moldy sandwich, the 3-day-old flat soda, or the fries you found under your car seat. See, don’t complain, you have lots of choices. Feel like you are awash in choices yet? Yeah, I didn’t think you would. Mount Vernon has 9 providers on their public network by the way. Now that’s real choice.

The fact that we pay the most per MBit of data in the developed world doesn’t seem to bother our mayor or public works director at all. $300 to $900 a month Gigabit fiber is fine with them, because then they can say, “It’s available, just not in the way you want.” Well, that’s like saying you technically have a car because you have one, that doesn’t run, on blocks in your yard. You can’t afford the parts, but technically it’s there, so according to the mayor and Carlson you shouldn’t complain.

This isn’t the only anti-net neutral telecom move Ted Carlson, the mayor, and the council have made. Remember my last article about how they prioritized small cells for Verizon ahead of Dig Once? Redefining wireless networks as equivalent to wired and the dangerous removal of land-use policies to accommodate companies like Verizon are also things that Ted is pushing for and the mayor and council are supporting. The funny thing is that if you don’t have fiber to back them up with, none of it works well. It does, however, result in lots of virtual monopolies and their buddies in the big telecoms like that a lot. There are even health risks associated with improper installations of small cells that they’re blowing off.

These speeds they list on the map are concerning because fiber is generally capable of a lot more. So what it really indicates is they are saying that since November they haven’t even tried to really take an inventory of the resources that you paid for. They just produced this map, hoping it would look good enough to confuse the council into believing them and allowing them to NOT work on a Dig Once Policy. They hope it will fool the rest of the public too.

This seems like a retaliatory step by the mayor and some select council members, for our recent articles about their unethical behavior. In the end, we still need this, and we need a Public Works Department, headed by an individual, who cares about the community at least enough to be able to provide a map of a resource they already paid for. Remember, the next thing they were going to work on was small cell policy to benefit Verizon and PSE before Dig Once. The fact that they moved it up probably means that they intend to kill it in favor of the big anti-net neutral, anti-first amendment telecoms that some of the council members have literally gushed over in council meetings.

So here we are, still waiting for my Public Records Request to be properly fulfilled so we can have a decent map of the network resources that we paid for and own! One last thing. The city tries to say that they couldn’t drop everything and just work on Dig Once. That’s also BS. I started out this journey offering to volunteer my services and put together volunteer teams of other individuals to finally get our schools, libraries, and other critical services hooked up in a modern way. The city says they don’t have enough staff, but they spit in the face of professional, volunteer services when they’re offered. Furthermore, this didn’t happen overnight. The city has known this was a problem for at least a decade when other local providers first approached them about public/private partnerships. They simply didn’t do their job, and are now saying that they didn’t know that they needed to when we’ve been talking to them for years.

I guarantee you that they were stalling to try and get a combination of Verizon 5G and CenturyLink “Fiber” out there so they could say that they don’t need to provide us with real choices and options. It’s what Ted and the mayor have done in the past, so why not again? The ‘why not’ is that it’s 2018 and we can’t afford to be left behind on such a common-sense project. Perhaps it’s time to fire the officials and staff, who give us the same tired routine over and over again. The hour is too late for us to be standing still as a city and county, so the big anti-first amendment, anti-net neutral telecoms can continue to overcharge us for services and attack our civil liberties.

They will also argue that it’s simply too expensive. This is also BS. The numbers I was quoted by Public Works, after James Erb had to get involved again just to get them, were approximately $50k per block for conduit. This is $400K per mile. This was an approximate quote; for some reason they have never provided an exact answer. Phoenix installs similar conduit for $100K per mile. I sent this list to the council and received thank yous from Mark Gardner and Pinky Vargas. So why are we pretending this is so expensive? Even at $400K a mile Bellingham is only 29 sq. miles. Accounting for some problems, that still puts the entire project around $14 Million and that number doesn’t even matter much because the network pays for itself through leasing. It’s not an expense; it’s income for the city.

The final argument the city makes is that they can’t just drop everything and work on a Dig Once Policy. This is BS for 3 main reasons. 1. Mount Vernon has provided us with their documents to work from. 2. I approached them almost 2 years ago and other interested parties approached them up to 10 years ago. So they’ve had plenty of time. 3. There are organizations out there that specialize in helping cities get public broadband going that I put them in touch with. No one ever expected them to drop everything and do this on their own. Again, we volunteered to help them. They’re simply dragging their feet.

Public Works fought me every step of the way, on every request. They have done the same to everyone else I’ve talked to working on just about every issue you can imagine. We deserve better.

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About Jon Humphrey

Columnist • 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 [...]

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